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Tobacco Finds Redemption in New High Efficiency Batteries and Fuel Cells

university of maryland researchers coax high efficiency battery from tobacco virusTobacco has brought wealth, pleasure, poverty, pain and misery to millions, but now its chaotic role in American life seems on the verge of morphing into something that is far more consistently beneficial. Researchers at the University of Maryland have found that tobacco hosts a virus that could be used to engineer high efficiency energy storage devices.

From Tobacco Virus to Energy Storage

The virus, aptly named Tobacco Mosaic Virus, has a spaghetti-like form that the researchers coaxed into perpendicular arrangements on the surface of battery electrodes. The roads are then coated with conductive material, which results in a greatly increased surface area on the electrode. That in turn enhances the battery’s ability to charge and discharge quickly, with an energy capacity about ten times greater than a conventional lithium-ion battery. As an green added bonus, the virus binds itself to the metal surface without the need for any other operation, which makes the entire process less energy-dependent and less expensive than conventional manufacturing.

Tobacco and Renewable Energy

The researchers note that tobacco is a renewable source for next-generation battery components, and it is emerging as a renewable source for fuel, too. It is highly efficient at producing oil and sugar, and scientists have found that tobacco can be genetically modified to yield twenty times more oil, making it a good candidate for a non-food biofuel crop. A researcher at the University of Central Florida has also developed a tobacco-derived enzyme that can help break down woody nonf00d biomass such as oil peels and newspaper to make biofuel.

Image: Tobacco flower by taberandrew on

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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