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Batteries Get Help from Mother Nature

Batteries Get Help from Mother Nature

Scientists put a common virus to work, creating durable materials for energy storage

Scanning electron microscopy image of the prepared three-dimensional tobacco mosaic virus templated current collector.

Rechargeable batteries die faster than owners would like. This demise is linked to the battery’s anode, which collects energy and supplies it on demand. Scientists would like to use a silicon anode, which could hold more energy, but traditional silicon becomes pulverized inside a battery. Therefore, scientist increased silicon’s usefulness by making it smaller. They began with a tiny, self-renewing, affordable material: the Tobacco mosaic virus. They arranged the genetically modified rod-shaped viruses, coated each rod with nickel and applied silicon using electrodeposition. Experiments showed the new anode had a 10-fold increase in energy capacity over a standard lithium-ion battery. The virus became inert, harmless. The work was led by the Nanostructures for Electrical Energy Storage, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center run by the University of Maryland.


Chen X, K Gerasopoulos, J Guo, A Brown, C Wang, R Ghodssi and JN Culver. 2010. “A patterned 3D silicon anode fabricated by electrodeposition on a virus-structured current collector.” Advanced Functional Materials 21, 380-387. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201001475