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

uired battery," said Ghodssi, director of the Institute for Systems Research and Herbert Rabin Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Clark School. "The technology that we have developed can be used to produce energy storage devices for integrated microsystems such as wireless sensors networks. These systems have to be really small in size—millimeter or sub-millimeter—so that they can be deployed in large numbers in remote environments for applications like homeland security, agriculture, environmental monitoring and more; to power these devices, equally small batteries are required, without compromising in performance."

TMV's nanostructure is the ideal size and shape to use as a template for building battery electrodes. Its self-replicating and self-assembling biological properties produce structures that are both intricate and orderly, which increases the power and storage capacity of the batteries that incorporate them. Because TMV can be programmed to bind directly to metal, the resulting components are lighter, stronger and less expensive than conventional parts.

Three distinct steps are involved in producing a TMV-based battery: modifying, propagating and preparing the TMV; processing the TMV to grow nanorods on a metal plate; and incorporating the nanorod-coated plates into finished batteries. It takes an interdisciplinary team of UM scientists and their students to make each step possible.

James Culver, a member of the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology and a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, and researcher Adam Brown had already developed genetic modifications to the TMV that enable it to be chemically coated with conductive metals. For this project they extract enough of the customized virus from just a few tobacco plants grown in the lab to synthesize hundreds of battery electrodes. The extracted TMV is then ready for the next step.

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SOURCE A. James Clark School of Engineering
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