Have you ever had a battery die on you at the absolute most inconvenient time? Your cell phone goes dead at a time when you actually need it. Or your camera battery dies, and you miss that perfect Kodak moment. And surely there was a time that your car battery died and left you stranded. Wouldn’t it be great if you never again had to worry about a dead battery? Considering new technologies that are being developed, that may not be as far off as you might think. Researchers have been exploring two new methods for self-charging batteries. One method uses viruses to generate electricity, and the other involves harvesting the energy that is around us every day.
Viral PowerResearchers at MIT have discovered how to genetically engineer viruses, specifically the virus they have dubbed M13, to build the anode and cathode (positive and negative) ends of a battery. (Don’t be alarmed; this particular virus is harmless to humans as it infects bacteria only.) Batteries created in this manner have the same power performance and energy capacity as a traditional battery; however, they would be much better for the environment. The process to make them uses less energy, there are no toxic chemicals involved, and there are no restrictions regarding their disposal.
M13 is a natural power source, an example of the piezoelectric effect which occurs when stress such as motion or vibration cause a material to build up charge. Through genetic engineering, scientists have been able to enhance its output enough to power a small LED screen. They arrange the virus into thin films, and then stack layers of these films together until they build up a sufficient amount of voltage. Someday you could be able to keep your smart phone charged just by tapping its screen or walking down the street.
There is energy in motion all around us: children running on the playground, cars parading down the street and leaves blowing in the wind. Researchers are aiming to harvest some of that energy and transfer it to batteries that could power anything from military applications to consumer electronics, perhaps even wind and water turbines. This is a 21st century application of Faraday’s principle, the law of induction which states that putting a conductor near a magnetic field will produce a current proportional to the speed of movement. The design involves a magnet attached to a spring, wire coils, circuitry, and a regular battery to store the electricity. It is self-charging, so the batteries can be made with less traditional storage material. And because it is less taxing, the battery will last longer.
Researchers say that six hours of average human movement can be converted into 30 to 60 minutes of cell phone power. That may not seem like a lot at the moment, but the potential is certainly there for exploration. If we could harvest that potential, it would make our lives much easier. As an example, the military wouldn’t have to cart around 20 pounds of batteries just to use their equipment when carrying out an operation.
Using viruses or motion power to create batteries may soon be a reality, and we may someday find battery chargers to be a thing of the past. It certainly would be a convenience that would enhance life as we know it.
About The Author:
Steven Kellett is the owner of Electronics Warehouse, an ecommerce store that specializes in batteries and battery chargers.