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Question Your World: How Do We Make Batteries Even More Efficient?

From laptops to mobile devices to smoke detectors and beyond, batteries play a very important role in our lives. They've become stronger and longer lasting throughout the years. The question now is how do we make batteries even more efficient? Learn more in this week's Question Your World Radio Report by the Science Museum of Virginia.

Electrodes are the mechanism by which we store energy in the battery. Over time you may notice that things don't hold a charge as much as they once used to. There are a lot of issues facing energy storage, but one of them most certainly is the ability of the electrodes to be used over and over again for transferring energy. They wear out over time and fewer places on the electrode are physically able to transport energy. A better more efficient electrode could certainly help the life of the battery, thus making the use of the machine that much better. 

Recently, scientists at MIT have been playing around with a very interesting approach to helping enhance the longevity of the electrode by using an eco-friendly new method. The big idea here comes from a small, really small organism. Viruses, similar to many other living things, naturally and biologically make external solid objects. For example, snails make shells as a natural part of their life. In this instance, these scientists were using a genetically modified virus which also grows something very remarkable. This particular virus is able to extract simple metals that are naturally occurring in water and grow a tiny wire, a nano-wire. Natural growth tends to yield irregular shapes and structures, so this nano-wire is comprised of several ridges and bumps. The most micro-ridges and bumps that a wire has, the larger the surface area. So, they used these wires in the battery. 

The natural bumpy nano-wires replaced the chemically created smooth ones that we have been producing. With more surface area available on the nano-wire wrapped electrode the more physical space there is to spread the incoming electricity through, thus decreasing the overall stress on the electrode. This decrease of stress allows for a longer life for the electricity input mechanism on batteries.

This is an awesome eco-friendly idea that uses these organisms' natural products as a means to enhance our technological capacity. These are very big new developments thanks to some really small organisms. 

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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