Virus Power: MIT completes nanomachine battery

Angela Belcher and her team of bioengineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have turned the concept of a virus-built battery into a reality.

For the last five years, the team has been engineering a virus known as M13 bacteriophage, which is attracted to inorganic materials. Each virus coats itself with gold and cobalt oxide, effectively turning itself into a fragment of nanowire. When these viruses are then chained together, they form a film that can be used as an anode, or the part of a battery that carries a negative ionic charge.

But that discovery was made nearly three years ago, and was only half of the simple negative and positive elements needed to form a working battery.

Ions from the negatively-charged anode flow to the positively-charged cathode to "charge" a battery, and flow in the opposite direction to "discharge" that electricity through laptops, mobile phones, and other such devices.

To create the cathode, the team engineered viruses that would attract iron phosphate and carbon nanotubes (cylindrical carbon molecules frequently used in nanotechnology), which created a highly conductive material that had practically no weight.

With both elements in place, the team could create a micro-battery capable of around 100 charges. The prototype took this model and inflated it to the size of a button cell battery which powers a simple LED.

While size is still an issue for these batteries, shape is not. The team hopes to be able to create a battery that can take the shape of whatever container in which it is housed.

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