What if we say to you that viruses can play an important role in future batteries? Well, this innovation about exploitation of the thing which viruses do the best, DNA hijacking. Viruses contain DNA and RNA depending on their types. In order to replicate, they have to inject their genetic material into a living cell and get that cell replicate for them. A team at MIT is using viruses for their own devices. They realized that while viruses can insert their genome into our cells for destructive purposes, we can also insert information into their genome to make stuff. They are working with the M13 bacteriophage. Batches of these viruses are being exposed to materials for them to latch upon, like a kind of metal. Then natural or engineered mutations in that virus’ genome will alter the virus’ surface for latching on to the respective material.
The viruses that “learned” to latch onto the material are then taken and popped into the bacteria whom viruses would normally infect, making millions of replicas of those modified viruses. Repeating this process over and over will make those bacteria become viral replication factories that can pump out a finely-honed viral tool which does the bioengineering bidding. Scientists can prepare a batch of viruses latching onto Cobalt Oxide, or another batch adhering to Manganese Oxide. Interestingly, those metal-coated viruses can then start to stick to each other forming nanowires which can be used in battery electrodes. The MIT team was able to make a lithium-ion battery using this viral assembly technique in 2009. The battery worked powering a LED light.
Now the team is carrying on its research on using these factories to make lithium-oxygen batteries. This is a kind of battery where oxygen spurs the chemical reaction which makes the battery work. A lithium-oxygen battery could theoretically store 10 times more energy in relation to its mass than a lithium-ion alternative.
Viruses are uniquely suited to build nanowires out of nanomaterials since they already exist and function and replicate on the micro and nanoscale. Manufacturing electrodes the old-fashioned way can result in toxic byproducts requiring very high temperatures. But all that needed here is genetically engineered viruses, water and metal. But Lithium oxygen batteries have their own drawbacks. They are highly reactive. Thus we need to remove impurities from the oxygen before the process. They also have low charging efficiency. But with techniques like viral-mediated electrode assembly, we may be closer to seeing a virus powered car on the road.
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