Viruses have gotten a bad rap for their role in colds, diseases and malware. But now the reputation of some viruses is being redeemed, as researchers in California have developed a way to use them for the creation of electricity.
The technology works by converting mechanical energy from specially engineered, harmless viruses into electricity. To date, the research team from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has created a generator that can produce enough current to power a small LCD display.
The research is described in a May 13 advance online publication of the Nature Nanotechnology journal.
Scientist and associate professor Seung-Wuk Lee said in a statement that, while more research is needed, the results thus far represent "a promising first step toward the development of personal power generators, actuators for use in nano-devices, and other devices based on viral electronics."
In the test generator, a finger tap of the postage stamp-sized electrode uses the viruses to generate an electrical charge. The electrode is coated with the viruses, and the generator is the first to create electricity by using the piezoelectric properties of biological material.
The viruses self-organize on a multilayered film in the generator that measures about one square centimeter, and are then placed between two gold-plated electrodes. A wire connects the arrangement to an LCD display. When pressure is applied, about six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential are created, equal to about 25 percent of a Triple A battery's voltage.
Piezoelectricity is the build-up of a charge in a solid, as a response to mechanical stress. Potentially, electricity from this kind of generator could be produced from a variety of everyday activities, such as shutting a door, walking, or bicycling.
Stack of 20 Layers
The piezoelectric effect, first discovered in 1880, has been found in crystals, ceramics, bone, proteins, and DNA. It is the basis for electric cigarette lighters and scanning probe microscopes, among other devices, but usually the materials required to produce the effect are toxic.
The research team's solution was to choose a virus -- the M13 bacteriophage that only attacks bacteria and is harmless to people. It replicates quickly, meaning that it's not expensive to produce, and it can be genetically engineered. The viruses orient themselves naturally on films, which the lab compared to chopsticks organizing themselves in a box.
While these attributes are useful, the key was to determine if the virus was piezoelectric. By applying an electrical field and then watching the results with a microscope, they found that the viruses responded by twisting and turning.
This meant the piezoelectric effect was working, but genetic engineering was needed to boost the resulting voltage. A stack of about 20 layers of the virus showed the strongest result.
In addition to electrical generation, the experiment's demonstration of viruses self-organizing themselves could represent another step toward the self-assembly that researchers are seeking in nanotechnology.
Posted: 2012-05-17 @ 11:22am PT
Electricity producing virus in say.. the brain of a freshly deceased human.. Yes, kids.. this is the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.
Posted: 2012-05-16 @ 8:06am PT
So it's a two potatoe clock without a potatoes.
People paid someone money to build that?