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Battery Technologies - Tomato Scourge may be Next Big Advance

written by: Baby Rani•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/13/2011

A familiar and common plant virus that ravages tobacco, tomatoes, and other plants, the stiff, bacilli-form Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) looks like raw spaghetti under an electron microscope. It is ironic that features of TMV could be harnessed to build components for advanced lithium ion batteries.

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    Viruses are unsafe to plants and animals equally as they can rapidly self-replicate. Scientists and engineers are now making use of the particular attribute to produce the next evolution of tiny, powerful batteries. The high performance of these batteries will allow them to be made much smaller and foster their adoption in a wide range of consumer devices.

    Engineers have figured out how to use the physical features to construct minute elements for the lithium ion batteries of the future. By altering the TMV, it can be made to become densely packed in a small area and align vertically. When then caked with a thin semiconductor layer and assembled into a battery, it works to increase the surface area of the battery, thus increasing the energy storing ability.

    This new technique could produce a ten-fold battery storage improvement. Just imagine how this will reduce charging time for your cell phone or laptop!

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    Tobacco Mosaic Virus Pictures

    TMVTMVTMVStructure of TMV
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    Advanced Batteries via Tobacco Virus

    Three steps are needed to make a TMV-based battery:

    1. Altering, growing, disseminating, and arranging the TMV.
    2. Treating the TMV to develop nanorods on a metal plate.
    3. Integrating the nanorod-surfaced plates into completed finished batteries.

    A team of interdisciplinary scientists and their students at the University of Maryland helped make each step feasible. A solvent of genetically altered TMV was used to attach the rod-like virus particles to the metal conductor plate, and then the entire area was covered with a thin layer of nickel and other metals. This conducting layer acts an electric current accumulator in the presence of the battery’s electrochemical reactions. This novel handling method leads to the usage of less scarce and less expensive materials in the batteries, making it reasonably feasible to continue to develop these techniques.

    TMV becomes torpid and inert during the build-up course. In reality, the resulting batteries do not “carry” the virus, and there is no possibility of transmitting the TMV virus to plant or human life.

    "The resulting batteries are a leap forward in many ways and will be ideal for use not only in small electronic devices, but in novel applications that have been limited so far by the size of the required battery," stated Professor Reza Ghodssi at the A. James Clark School of Engineering and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

    Herbert Rabin Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Clark School stated that the technique that they had developed could be utilized to generate tools to store energy for incorporated Microsystems like wireless sensors networks. These arrangements have to be in fact minute in size like millimeter or sub-millimeter. This will help it to be spread in big numbers in distant environments for practical applications like mother country security, agriculture, environ supervising and more; to control these devices, similarly tiny batteries are compulsory and keeping in mind not to compromise in performance.

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    Conclusion

    If the scientists of Maryland University who are conducting this research can ramp the technique up to commercial levels, then tobacco cultivators all over the world may find themselves adding something more beneficial to society.

    References

    Melissa Corley - Bad Virus Put to Good use

    Breakthrough batteries using tobacco virus

    EVWorldwire - Harnessing TMV to build better lithium batteries

    Images

    ForestryImages.org - Tobacco mosaic virus on various plants

    Wikipedia Commons - TMV cell structure