Researchers at MIT say that a benign virus could be the next step in improving lithium-air battery technology.

Viruses typically have negative connotations--think seasonal flu or malicious files sent to your computer--but biological technology is an increasingly important research topic and one that could play a large part in our future.

In this instance, reports Transport Evolved, MIT researchers have discovered a way to use a genetically-modified version of the M13 bacteriophage virus to grow manganese oxide nanowires.

Lithium-air batteries use the oxidation of lithium at an anode and reduction of oxygen at a cathode to induce a current flow. The virus-created nanowires act as a catalyst for the cathode in this reaction, where discharge products are deposited as lithium peroxide, and converted back to lithium and oxygen when charging.

One major benefit of the nanowires is their surface area, allowing the battery to transfer more energy--for faster charging, but also greater energy storage.

MORE: Electric car battery breakthroughs: Ultimate guide

The upshot of this is improvements in the two key areas of battery design--recharging and energy density. Lithium-air batteries are already desirable for their light weight and high energy storage capabilities. In turn, this leads to smaller, lighter batteries offering greater range--leading to more usable electric cars.

In fact, lithium-air batteries are so effective that many suggest they have the energy density of gasoline. MIT's own graphic predicts the average electric car's range could increase from the 100 miles of today's vehicles to over 340 miles--similar to many gasoline vehicles.

The use of viruses to grow the nanowires is also a safer option, strange as it sounds. The typical alternative is to build them using plenty of heat and all manner of chemicals--certainly not the greenest of processes.

So next time you have the flu, take consolation from the knowledge that not all viruses are bad--some could help power your future electric vehicle...


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