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Virus helps researchers make better car battery

Small wonders: Researchers say viruses have the potential to greatly improve electric vehicle battery energy densities.

Using viruses to build electric vehicle batteries shows early promise

General News logo15 Nov 2013

RESEARCHERS have discovered a new way to make the next generation of electric car batteries – and the secret is in your sneeze.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have combined genetically modified viruses – similar to the natural ones that are responsible for the common cold – with the process that makes nanowires, creating tiny wires with lumpy, rather than smooth, surfaces.

The benefit is that when the wires are used as electrodes in a new generation of lithium-air batteries, the increased surface area can help to improve the battery’s performance.

According to MIT, researchers produced an array of nanowires, each about the width of a single human blood cell, using a genetically modified virus called M13.

The virus can extract metal dissolved in water and form shapes much like an abalone extracts calcium form seawater to make its shell.

What excited researchers, though, was that instead of a smooth surface to the manganese oxide wire formed in traditional processes, the virus formed a spiky skin that greatly increased surface area.

The wires are used as a cathode in lithium-air batteries. The bumpy surface of the wires greatly affects how the batteries recharge and power up an electric motor.

“Altogether, these modifications have the potential to produce a battery that could provide two to three times greater energy density — the amount of energy that can be stored for a given weight — than today’s best lithium-ion batteries,” MIT said while announcing the breakthrough.

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