A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims that by using a specially engineered virus, it should be possible to get around some of the biggest impediments to lithium-air’s widespread adoption.
The technique uses a genetically manipulated virus to lay down metal ions in a complicated multi-branch structure to create novel nanowires, known as M123 for the cell’s anode.
Another big advantage of the M13 nanowires is that the virus tends to build them in interwoven networks that greatly increase their durability. This means that one of lithium-air’s biggest drawbacks — that they offered far fewer recharge cycles than competing techs like lithium-ion — could be at least partially solved. The researchers seem to see their bio-manufacturing breakthrough as a precursor to actual bio-batteries, which would maintain a viral population throughout their life, presumably to rebuild the wires as needed. More realistic in the short-term, though, is a place for M13 on the factory floor.
One particular side-advantage of this work is that the virus can be made to incorporate small amounts of expensive metals like palladium to significantly increase the conductivity, allowing it to catalyse reactions in the charge and discharge process. In the past, researchers have tried to achieve this by using large amounts of pure metal samples but the costs are prohibitive for large-scale manufacturing. The virus can achieve many of the same advantages, but do it with a much smaller amount of precious metals, bringing down the costs.