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Virus Generates Electricity

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May 15, 2012: Virus That Generates Electricity

How about harvesting electrical energy from everyday things like… walking. Charge your phone as you walk. How else could we use the electricity?

From left, Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee, and Ramamoorthy Ramesh developed the "viral-electric" generator. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt of Berkeley Lab)

From left, Byung Yang Lee, Seung-Wuk Lee, and Ramamoorthy Ramesh developed the “viral-electric” generator. (Photos by Roy Kaltschmidt of Berkeley Lab)

Scientist from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Lawence Berkley Nations Lab have developed a ways to generate power using a shoe genharmless virus. The virus can convert mechanical energy (like walking) into electricity.

Tap a finger on a postage-stamp sized electrode coated with the special viruses and the force of the tap is converted into an electric charge. A personal power generator.

The piezoelectric effect was discovered in the 1880’s. Found in crystals, ceramics, bone, proteins and DNA. But the materials used to make piezoelectric devises are toxic and very difficult to work with.

[Piezoelectricity /piˌeɪzoʊˌilɛkˈtrɪsɪti/ is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure. It is derived from the Greek piezo or piezein (πιέζειν), which means to squeeze or press, and electric or electron (ήλεκτρον), which stands for amber, an ancient source of electric charge. Piezoelectricity was discovered in 1880 by French physicists Jacques and Pierre Curie. From Wikipedia]

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. It's coated with approximately 2700 charged proteins that enable scientists to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

The M13 bacteriophage has a length of 880 nanometers and a diameter of 6.6 nanometers. It’s coated with approximately 2700 charged proteins that enable scientists to use the virus as a piezoelectric nanofiber.

What if we used viruses, Lee asked himself. The M13 virus is benign to humans, it replicates itself by the millions within hours, it’s easy to genetically engineer, and it’s rod shaped so they orients themselves into well-ordered films like chopsticks align themselves in a box.

When pressure is applied to the generator, it produces up to six nanoamperes of current and 400 millivolts of potential. That’s enough current to flash the number “1” on the display (top image), and about a quarter the voltage of a triple A battery.

The bottom 3-D atomic force microscopy image shows how the viruses align themselves side-by-side in a film. The top image maps the film's structure-dependent piezoelectric properties, with higher voltages a lighter color.

The bottom 3-D atomic force microscopy image shows how the viruses align themselves side-by-side in a film. The top image maps the film’s structure-dependent piezoelectric properties, with higher voltages a lighter color.

“We’re now working on ways to improve on this proof-of-principle demonstration,” says Lee. “Because the tools of biotechnology enable large-scale production of genetically modified viruses, piezoelectric materials based on viruses could offer a simple route to novel microelectronics in the future.”

piezodevice2_box03 piezo

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