Image credit University of Maryland College Park
One of the first known viruses, the Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), spelled disaster for tobacco crops, but it could be the secret to success for more efficient batteries and fuel cells, according to research from University of Maryland. Researchers are learning how to exploit the virus's amazing ability to self-renew and self-assemble to improve on today's lithium ion batteries. University of Maryland reports that the rigid, rod-shaped virus can "modify the TMV rods to bind perpendicularly to the metallic surface of a battery electrode and arrange the rods in intricate and orderly patterns on the electrode. Then, they coat the rods with a conductive thin film that acts as a current collector and finally the battery's active material that participates in the electrochemical reactions."
This helps the electrode store energy and rapidly charge and discharge, making batteries faster and more efficient, with as much as 10-fold more energy capacity over standard lithium ion batteries.
"The resulting batteries are a leap forward in many ways and will be ideal for use not only in small electronic devices but in novel applications that have been limited so far by the size of the required battery," said Professor Reza Ghodssi, director of the Institute for Systems Research and Herbert Rabin Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Clark School. "The technology that we have developed can be used to produce energy storage devices for integrated microsystems such as wireless sensors networks. These systems have to be really small in size--millimeter or sub-millimeter--so that they can be deployed in large numbers in remote environments for applications like homeland security, agriculture, environmental monitoring and more; to power these devices, equally small batteries are required, without compromising in performance."
TMV can be programmed to bind directly to metal, and because the virus is inert once it is bonded, there's no risk of the virus spreading. Additionally, it seems the TMV-improved battery building process can be scaled up to industrial production, since the process is simple and cheap.
Here's a video about the project:
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