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How viruses could help create a better electric car battery

Researchers genetically engineered viruses to build nanowires the batteries rely on when they charge and recharge. The process is safer and more green than traditional techniques.
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Researchers are chasing better electric car batteries that are more efficient and, as a result, able to carry a car farther between charges. Super lightweight lithium air batteries are promising, but the technology isn’t ready yet.

MIT researchers published a paper in Nature Communications today detailing an unusual manufacturing technique that could help the batteries edge closer to being ready. Each time a lithium air battery charges or discharges, it needs a location for electrochemical reactions to take place. Nanowires — tiny wires the width of a red blood cell — do the job nicely, but generally need to be manufactured at extremely high temperatures with dangerous chemicals.

The researchers found they could make the nanowires at room temperature by relying on an unexpected ally: genetically modified viruses. The viruses capture metal molecules from water and build them into the long nanowires with spiky surfaces. The spikes create a greater surface area than the smooth, industrially produced nanowires have, which creates more area for electrochemical activity to take place. This allows faster charges and discharges.
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