MIT Teams Up With the Flu to Make Batteries

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 8:16 PM EDT

You may have heard of oil-eating microbes, or microbes turning weeds into biofuels. Now, there are battery-making microbes.

A few MIT whizzes recently discovered a way to make genetically modified flu viruses help construct the anode and cathode (negative and positive) ends of re-chargeable lithium batteries.

The research team, led by MIT professors Angela Belcher, Paula Hammond, and Yet-Ming Chiang, made the virus self-assemble a host of carbon nanotubes (each one-tenth the width of a human hair) and tiny particles of iron phosphate and silver (for the cathode) or cobalt oxide and gold (for the anode) to create a network of charged nanowires, which act as active battery material.

Although the batteries are very small, they have an above average energy density, and the method could conceivably be developed to make larger batteries used in everything from portable chargers to electric cars. Belcher says that just 10 grams of the viral battery material could power an iPod for 40 hours.