Univ. of Maryland
This image shows nickel-coated tobacco mosaic virus on a silicon wafer. The technology may lead to more efficient batteries.
Viruses and technology seldom mix well — just think of all the downtime that nasty computer viruses have caused office workers around the world. But in a twist, researchers have harnessed the self-renewing and self-assembling properties of a particularly nasty plant virus to build faster, smaller and more efficient batteries.
The work is based on the rigid, rod-shaped tobacco mosaic virus, which wreaks havoc on tobacco, tomato, pepper and other plants. Researchers in a lab at the University of Maryland are taking the traits that make the virus a menace in nature, and using them to build lithium ion batteries of the future.
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“They can modify the TMV [tobacco mosaic virus] 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,” the university explains in a news release.
The result is a battery with increased electrode surface area and capacity to store energy. According to the university, the new batteries show up to a tenfold increase in energy capacity over a standard lithium ion battery. And in case you’re worried, the resulting batteries are unable to transmit the virus, the researchers say.
For more information about how the team developed the batteries and their potential applications, check out this video from the University of Maryland:
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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the “like” button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com’s science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).