Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a virus in order to design rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that could be woven into clothing to power portable electronic devices. Not only could these batteries be incorporated into fabric, but they could also be poured or sprayed into containers of any size or shape, thus allowing the shells or other parts of devices to double as their power source. MIT believes such batteries would be particularly beneficial to soldiers, who commonly have to carry several pounds of batteries to run their various gizmos. This development is reminiscent of the University of California’s nanogenerator-enabled clothing that harnesses power from the wearer’s movements, and could perhaps even be combined with such technology.

The wearable batteries are an extension of work done last year, in which a team led by MIT scientist Angela Belcher engineered a virus as a biotemplate for preparing lithium ion battery anodes and cathodes. The virus, named M13 bacteriophage, has an outer coating of protein surrounding an inner core of genes... and before you start thinking this sounds like the premise for a Michael Crichton novel, the virus is said to be harmless to humans – although it attacks bacteria.

Using this virus as their blueprint, researchers in MIT’s Belcher Biomaterials group proceeded to produce cathodes from an iron-fluoride material. These cathodes will be combined with anodes and electrolytes in the battery fabric, which the scientists claim will have only a minimal loss of power, performance, and/or chargeability as compared to regular batteries.

"Using M13 bacteriophage as a template is an example of green chemistry, an environmentally friendly method of producing the battery," said MIT’s Mark Allen, Ph.D. "It enables the processing of all materials at room temperature and in water." These materials, he added, should be less dangerous than those used in current lithium-ion batteries because they produce less heat, which reduces flammability risks.

The team’s work was presented this week at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.