Viruses Create Electricity with New Gadget-Charging Technology

© Berkeley Lab

Viruses typically get a bad rap since they're usually making us sick and all, but it turns out they could be a force for good. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have figured out how to use non-human viruses to create electricity from kinetic energy, which could lead to gadgets that can be powered by human movement.

The scientists made the piezoelectric device by coating a small electrode with engineered viruses. When tapped with a finger, the device created an electrical charge about one quarter the voltage of a triple A battery.

First, they confirmed that the M13 bacteriophage they had chosen was piezoelectric, then they engineered it to increase the voltage. The virus is benign to people, easily replicated and engineered and large numbers self-organize into well-ordered thin films. The scientists stacked 20 layers of these films, about the size of a postage stamp, and placed the stack between two gold-plated electrodes. When pressure was applied, the device could power a small LCD display.

“We’re now working on ways to improve on this proof-of-principle demonstration. Because the tools of biotechnology enable large-scale production of genetically modified viruses, piezoelectric materials based on viruses could offer a simple route to novel microelectronics in the future," says Seung-Wuk Lee, a faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division and a UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering.

In the future, by simply going about our everyday tasks like climbing stairs, opening and closing doors, we could be powering our gadgets and we'll have a virus to thank.

Tags: Electronics | Gadgets | Human-Powered | Renewable Energy

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