Bio Electrification

Viruses may be the next source of juice in your AA, AAA and laptop batteries

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

In December 2007, we gave you a primer on batteries, and told you that bio batteries–in our article, batteries powered by sugar eating micro organisms–were coming soon.

A biologist at MIT, Angela Belcher, has delivered on bio batteries, though her new battery uses a virus to create electricity, not microbes and sugar. NPR just aired a story reporting that Belcher had come up with a way to make batteries in water, without organic solvents and at room temperature. She has speed evolved a long, wiry virus that attracts iron and phosphate and builds them into a stiff lattice structure. The ends of the structure have the properties of an anode and cathode, the positive and negative ends of a battery. Once the lattice is in place, it latches on to carbon nanotubes smaller than a pencil dot, that transmit electricity in and out. Voila–you have a system that’s already powered an LED, with a wider range of applications is in reach.

Chemist David Wright is quoted in the NPR interview saying, “It would be a different manufacturing process, but I think that there’s a very reasonable chance that the whole procedure would scale industrially. The new battery already has properties that put it on a par with batteries being manufactured commercially today.”

Listen to the interview with Belcher here, or read the abstract from the journal of Science.where Belcher published her findings. And, keep your eye out for new ways to power your next backpacking trip, or even your hybrid car.