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Researchers harness engineered viruses to produce electrical energy

Researchers harness engineered viruses to produce electricity

Researchers from the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity.

The scientists tested their approach by creating a generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid crystal display. It works by tapping a finger on a postage stamp sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses. The viruses convert the force of the tap into an electric charge.

The generator is said to be the first to produce electricity by harnessing the piezoelectric properties of a biological material. Piezoelectricity is the accumulation of a charge in a solid in response to mechanical stress.

The researchers believe the milestone could lead to tiny devices that harvest electrical energy from the vibrations of everyday tasks such as shutting a door or climbing stairs.

It also points to a simpler way to make microelectronic devices. This is because the viruses arrange themselves into an orderly film that enables the generator to work.

"More research is needed, but our work is a promising first step toward the development of personal power generators, actuators for use in nano devices, and other devices based on viral electronics," said Seung-Wuk Lee, an associate professor of bioengineering at Berkley.

"We're now working on ways to improve on this proof of principle demonstration. 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."

Author
Laura Hopperton

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