Wearable Batteries Produced Via Virus?

The basis of the M13 bacteriophage is a common virus, but it has an uncommon potential: wearable batteries. According to a recent release from the American Chemical Society, scientists have made progress in using the virus to develop improved materials for high-performance, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that could be woven into clothing to power portable electronic devices.

These findings, which were presented recently by Mark Allen, Ph.D., a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), detail the development of these new materials for the battery’s cathode, or positive electrode. Allen noted that these new power sources could be woven into fabrics such as uniforms or ballistic vests, and poured or sprayed into containers of any size and shape. Such “conformable batteries” could be used to power smart phones, GPS units, and other portable electronic devices.

M13 bacteriophage

image via Western Kentucky University

Allen is a member of a group of postdocs studying under MIT scientist Angela Belcher, who has extended on ground-breaking work done last year by Belcher and her colleagues, who were the first to engineer a virus as a biotemplate for preparing lithium ion battery anodes and cathodes. The virus is called the M13 bacteriophage and consists of nothing more than an outer coat of protein surrounding an inner core of genes; it infects bacteria and is harmless to people.

“Using M13 bacteriophage as a template is an example of green chemistry, an environmentally friendly method of producing the battery,” Allen said, in a statement. “It enables the processing of all materials at room temperature and in water.” And these materials, he said, should be less dangerous than those used in current lithium-ion batteries because they produce less heat, which reduces flammability.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.