Virus could lead to motion-powered gadgets

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has designed a benign virus that builds up an electric charge, in a new approach to motion-powered personal electronics and energy harvesting.

Press one for free energy. A prototype device that uses a virus to generate electricity from motion or pressure.
(Credit: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

Scientists are genetically engineering viruses in the pursuit of better battery life, perhaps leading to smartphones charged from the motion of walking.

The Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory described a microelectronic device that uses a benign virus to build up electric charge from movement.

Its first prototype was able to display the numeral "1" on an LCD screen when a person pressed a postage stamp-sized button.

A drawing of how pressure causes charge to build up on either end of the rod-shaped M13 bacteriophage virus.
(Credit: Nature Nanotechnology)

That amount of current isn't useful enough to charge common electronics, such as a music player or phone. But the researchers' novel approach to harvesting energy from motion shows promise, either for consumer electronics or for sensors that use vibrations or changing pressure to charge themselves.

The researchers are working with the piezoelectric effect, where charge accumulates in certain materials based on some sort of stress, such as motion or vibration. Some existing piezoelectric materials are toxic and difficult to work with, according to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab group.

The researchers looked to viruses as a new material to work with, because they reproduce rapidly and align far better than other materials, making them good candidates to accumulate a charge on one end of the virus. The researchers then genetically engineered the virus with proteins that enhance the build-up of charge on the ends of the rod-shaped viruses. The viruses only attack other bacteria, so are considered benign.

The viruses are stacked onto thin films, and then several thin films are layered to build up as much voltage as possible.

The Lawrence Berkeley Lab group isn't the first to pursue viruses as a means for building up electric charge. Researchers at MIT in 2009 said that they were able to wire a charge-building virus to a lithium-ion battery.

The Lawrence Berkeley Lab's prototype was only able to generate about a quarter of the voltage of a triple A battery, but they believe that their approach to "viral electronics" can scale up.

The researchers said in a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology:

Do not expect this virus-based device to run your water-heating unit. Yet, this is a flexible film with self-assembling capability that no other piezoelectric materials can even dream about. With this technology, it is possible to envisage small-scale structures patterned with piezoelectric elements (so long as the structures are larger than the virus particles). This is ideal for small-scale sensing and energy-harvesting devices that can then be coupled to conventional electronics.

Via CNET

Previous Story

Huawei Ideos X3

Mobile Phones
Next Story

HTC Desire C surfaces: low-end device with ICS



Add Your Comment

Avatar
 

Be the first to comment on this story!


Post comment as


Sponsored Links

Recently Viewed Products