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

a forest of vertically aligned virus rods using a process developed by Culver's former Ph.D. student, Elizabeth Royston. A solution of TMV is applied to a metal electrode plate. The genetic modifications program one end of the rod shaped virus to attach to the plate. Next these viral forests are chemically coated with a conductive metal, mainly nickel. Other than its structure, no trace of the virus is present in the finished product, which cannot transmit a virus to either plants or animals. This process is patent-pending.

Ghodssi, materials science Ph.D. student Konstantinos Gerasopoulos, and former postdoctoral associate Matthew McCarthy (now a faculty member at Drexel University) have used this metal-coating technique to fabricate alkaline batteries with common techniques from the semiconductor industry such as photolithography and thin film deposition.

While the first generation of their devices used the nickel-coated viruses for the electrodes, work published earlier this year investigated the feasibility of structuring electrodes with the active material deposited on top of each nickel-coated nanorod, forming a core/shell nanocomposite where every TMV particle contains a conductive metal core and an active material shell. In collaboration with Chunsheng Wang, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and his Ph.D. student Xilin Chen, the researchers have developed several techniques to form nanocomposites of silicon and titanium dioxide on the metalized TMV template.  This architecture both stabilizes the fragile, active material coating and provides it with a direct connection to the battery electrode.

In the third and final step, Chen and Gerasopoulos assemble these electrodes into the experimental high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Their capacity can be several times higher than that of bulk materials and in the case of silicon, higher than that of current commercial batteries.  

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SOURCE A. James Clark School of Engineering
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