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Bad Virus Put to Good Use: Breakthrough Batteries
Date:12/6/2010

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Dec. 6, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Viruses have a bad rep—and rightly so. The ability of a virus to quickly and precisely replicate itself makes it a destructive scourge to animals and plants alike. Now an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, brought together by Professor Reza Ghodssi, is turning the tables, harnessing and exploiting the "self-renewing" and "self-assembling" properties of viruses for a higher purpose: to build a new generation of small, powerful and highly efficient batteries and fuel cells.

The rigid, rod-shaped Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), which under an electron microscope looks like uncooked spaghetti, is a well-known and widespread plant virus that devastates tobacco, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetation. But in the lab, engineers have discovered that they can harness the characteristics of TMV to build tiny components for the lithium ion batteries of the future. They can modify the TMV rods to bind perpendicularly to the metallic surface of a battery electrode and arrange the rods in intricate and orderly patterns on the electrode. Then, they coat the rods with a conductive thin film that acts as a current collector and finally the battery's active material that participates in the electrochemical reactions.

As a result, the researchers can greatly increase the electrode surface area and its capacity to store energy and enable fast charge/discharge times. TMV becomes inert during the manufacturing process; the resulting batteries do not transmit the virus. The new batteries, however, have up to a 10-fold increase in energy capacity over a standard lithium ion battery.

"The resulting batteries are a leap forward in many ways and will be ideal for use not only in small electronic devices but in novel applications that have been limited so far by the size of the req
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SOURCE A. James Clark School of Engineering
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