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Lithium-air batteries go viral for greater durability and performance


November 14, 2013

The genetically modified M13 virus creates maganese oxide nanowires with spikes providing more surface area

The genetically modified M13 virus creates maganese oxide nanowires with spikes providing more surface area

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In recent years, lithium-air batteries that promise improved power density per pound over lithium-ion batteries have been the subject of much research in the quest to give electronic vehicles greater range. By enlisting the help of a genetically-modified virus, researchers at MIT have found a way to improve the performance and durability of lithium-air batteries, which offer the potential of two to three times the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries.

The main reason lithium-air batteries boast higher energy density than lithium-ion batteries is because, in place of the heavy conventional compounds used in lithium-ion batteries, they use oxygen from the air to react with a lithium anode through a carbon-based air cathode. Nanowires used as one of the electrodes for these batteries are typically created through a high-energy chemical process, which produces electrodes with a flat surface area.

By using a genetically modified version of the M13 virus, the MIT team was able to increase the surface area of a nanowire array, which is about 80 nm across. The virus has the ability to “capture molecules of metals from water and bind them into structural shapes,” says Angela Belcher, the W.M. Keck Professor of Energy and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. "Similar to how an abalone grows its shell.”

The viruses built wires of manganese oxide, a material often used for the cathode of lithium-air batteries, that had a rough, spiked surface. Having spikes, rather than a flatter surface as results when wires are “grown” through conventional chemical methods, creates more surface area for the chemical reaction to occur. This process also creates a cross-linked 3D structure, rather than isolated wires, making for a more stable electrode. Adding to its advantages, the viral process is water-based and done at room temperature.

This doesn’t mean that our battery-making facilities will become industrial virus churns, as Belcher expects the manufacturing process to evolve, as it has with other materials developed in her lab in the past. “The chemistry was initially developed using biological methods, but then alternative means that were more easily scalable for industrial-scale production were substituted in the actual manufacturing.”

The researchers only produced a cathode using the viral process and the produced material was tested through 50 cycles of charging and discharging, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of cycles electric vehicle batteries would endure. According to the team, more research is needed, specifically in the area of the electrolyte of the battery, to make lithium-air batteries commercially viable.

A paper about the research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The video below gives an overview of the process the virus uses to create a spiky nanowire.

Source: MIT


How can we keep up with all the technology changes, viruses being used to create better batteries, you know it is probably a good idea to look to nature first for the best way to do things, heck, nature has been finding better and more efficient ways of doing things for millions of years. I just wish some of these break thews would make it to my store shelves.


This is a laboratory phenomenon.. nothing more. It is not a new battery or new battery technology

Over the years, there have been a dozen different Lab discovered enhancements claiming battery enchantments by up to a 1,000 Fold. From super material cathodes to nano tubes. NONE of them have been proven to be mass-production possible as this tech also. They remain neat scientific journal articles nothing more. Doesn't matter how amazing the potential is.. If you can't mass produce it, it's all academic feather's in cap for labrats. And that is what 99% of these blog and tech articles really are.


"capture molecules of metals from water" - ugh! Metals exist as atoms or ions, not molecules. Awful mistake.


I recall having met Angela Belcher, years ago when Cambrios was just getting launched as a company. The strategy of utilizing viral entities as a potential nano structured materials fabrication process was (and still is) an extremely interesting concept. I'm glad to see such still ongoing. If the next step happens to be lithium air batteries, excellent.

Charles Ostman

Using a Lithium Air battery and a Nu Vinci transmission in an electric car that has a total weight of 2200 lbs. would be one sweet car. Also it would be good for manual windows and a high tech and efficient air conditioner and heater. And the cars electric motor should drive an axle for 2 wheels and not try to overcomplicate the car with a motor on each wheel bs that would need a computer. The car would need minimal circuitry with a dedicated chip and not a computer that would be prone to maintenance. In other words a electric car for the masses and not for the "Gotta have Leather" or $2000. stereo sound system or power everything. This car that I speak of would Dwarf all other sales of cars and trucks.

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