Dang, time to change the batteries again — honey, where’s the electron microscope?

A promising nanotech approach to battery building has now reached the working prototype stage, reports Popular Mechanics. Working under McArthur “genius grant” recipient Angela Belcher, a team of MIT researchers has been busy trying to train a virus to organically grow the components of a nanoscale battery. Previously, the team had reported success in creating two of the three elements for a battery — the positively charged anode and the electrolyte — and now they have several working candidates for the cathode material. The whole process involves genetically engineering the virus to attract individual molecules of material of the required material, like cobalt oxide or gold. “Once you do the genetic engineering with the viruses themselves, you pour in the solution and they grow the right combination of these materials on them,” Belcher says.

The researchers see the technology eventually taking several shapes: a filmlike structure that could be used on semiconductors, smart cards and medical devices; a mesh architecture that would combine billions of nano-components into something that could sub for today’s conventional batteries; and a fiber configuration that could be woven into textiles to create a wearable power source. Exciting possibilities abound, but when it comes to talk about powering vehicles, for instance, the team is realistic and focused. “What we’re working on is not thinking about a particular device application, but trying to improve the quality of the anode and cathode materials — using biology just to make a higher quality material for energy density,” Belcher says. “We haven’t ruled out cars. That’s a lot of amplification. But right now the thing is trying to make the best material possible, and if we get a really great material, then we have to think about how do you scale it.”


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