Viral Batteries

In an increasingly digital and mobile world, we’ve come more and more reliant on batteries to power our lives.   Battery life has become so important to our device use that Amazon, on its Kindle page, touts a quote from Wired: “Battery life is long enough for space shuttle missions.”  And recently, researchers at the University of Maryland may have discovered a way to increase the lifespan of some batteries last six to ten times longer — using a virus.

The virus, caled the tobacco mosaic virus (or TMV) has been known about in one form or another since the late 1800s.  It attacks tobacco plants and other crops, such as peppers and tomatoes, stunting their growth and killing off part of the leaves, leaving a mosaic pattern as seen right.  (TMV has no known effect on humans.)    TMV can be coated with nickel and cobalt, allowing the virus to be added to battery electrodes.  And because the virus is shaped like a thin rod, the available surface area is much larger than most substances used in batteries (by an order of magnitude), allowing for an enormous increase in battery life.

And best of all?  Being a virus, it self-replicates.  And being a virus which attacks vegetation, it’s pretty easy (and cheap) to produce.   (And it’s a much better use of tobacco than, say, cigarettes.)

Bonus fact: In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer cross-breeds tobacco and tomato plants, ending up with “tomacco” — plants which look like tomatoes but taste (and are addictive) like tobacco.  Fictional?  Kind of.  Because both plants are from the same biological family (solanaceae), it’s possible to cross-breed them, as demonstrated by an amateur horticulturist from Oregon back in 2003.

Related: Grass-o-s: How a tobacco plant helped us figure out why freshly cut grass has such a unique odor.

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