Using the Tobacco mosaic virus to self assemble lithium ion battery components and increase energy capacity by ten times

Engineers have discovered that they can harness the characteristics of Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) to build tiny components for the lithium ion batteries of the future

The rigid, rod-shaped Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), which under an electron microscope looks like uncooked spaghetti, is a well-known and widespread plant virus that devastates tobacco, tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetation. Engineers can modify the TMV rods to bind perpendicularly to the metallic surface of a battery electrode and arrange the rods in intricate and orderly patterns on the electrode. Then, they coat the rods with a conductive thin film that acts as a current collector and finally the battery’s active material that participates in the electrochemical reactions.

The researchers can greatly increase the electrode surface area and its capacity to store energy and enable fast charge/discharge times. TMV becomes inert during the manufacturing process; the resulting batteries do not transmit the virus. The new batteries, however, have up to a 10-fold increase in energy capacity over a standard lithium ion battery.

One acre of tobacco can be used to produce one pound of TMV.

“The resulting batteries are a leap forward in many ways and will be ideal for use not only in small electronic devices but in novel applications that have been limited so far by the size of the required battery,” said Ghodssi, director of the Institute for Systems Research and Herbert Rabin Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Clark School. “The technology that we have developed can be used to produce energy storage devices for integrated microsystems such as wireless sensors networks. These systems have to be really small in size–millimeter or sub-millimeter–so that they can be deployed in large numbers in remote environments for applications like homeland security, agriculture, environmental monitoring and more; to power these devices, equally small batteries are required, without compromising in performance.”

TMV’s nanostructure is the ideal size and shape to use as a template for building battery electrodes. Its self-replicating and self-assembling biological properties produce structures that are both intricate and orderly, which increases the power and storage capacity of the batteries that incorporate them. Because TMV can be programmed to bind directly to metal, the resulting components are lighter, stronger and less expensive than conventional parts.

Three distinct steps are involved in producing a TMV-based battery: modifying, propagating and preparing the TMV; processing the TMV to grow nanorods on a metal plate; and incorporating the nanorod-coated plates into finished batteries.

While the first generation of their devices used the nickel-coated viruses for the electrodes, work published earlier this year investigated the feasibility of structuring electrodes with the active material deposited on top of each nickel-coated nanorod, forming a core/shell nanocomposite where every TMV particle contains a conductive metal core and an active material shell. In collaboration with Chunsheng Wang, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and his Ph.D. student Xilin Chen, the researchers have developed several techniques to form nanocomposites of silicon and titanium dioxide on the metalized TMV template. This architecture both stabilizes the fragile, active material coating and provides it with a direct connection to the battery electrode.

In the third and final step, Chen and Gerasopoulos assemble these electrodes into the experimental high-capacity lithium-ion batteries. Their capacity can be several times higher than that of bulk materials and in the case of silicon, higher than that of current commercial batteries.

“Virus-enabled nanorod structures are tailor-made for increasing the amount of energy batteries can store. They confer an order of magnitude increase in surface area, stabilize the assembled materials and increase conductivity, resulting in up to a10-fold increase in the energy capacity over a standard lithium ion battery,” Wang said.

A bonus: since the TMV binds metal directly onto the conductive surface as the structures are formed, no other binding or conducting agents are needed as in the traditional ink-casting technologies that are used for electrode fabrication.

“Our method is unique in that it involves direct fabrication of the electrode onto the current collector; this makes the battery’s power higher, and its cycle life longer,” said Wang.

The use of the TMV virus in fabricating batteries can be scaled up to meet industrial production needs. “The process is simple, inexpensive, and renewable,” Culver adds. “On average, one acre of tobacco can produce approximately 2,100 pounds of leaf tissue, yielding approximately one pound of TMV per pound of infected leaves,” he explains.

Journal Nanotechnology – Biofabrication methods for the patterned assembly and synthesis of viral nanotemplates

Chemical Communications – Self-assembled Ni/TiO2 nanocomposite anodes synthesized via electroless plating and atomic layer deposition on biological scaffolds

Ni(core)/TiO2(shell) nanocomposite anodes were fabricated on three-dimensional, self-assembled nanotemplates of Tobacco mosaic virus using atomic layer deposition, exhibiting high capacities and rate capability and extremely low average capacity fading ([similar]0.024% per cycle) for [similar]1000 cycles.

Advanced Functional Material – A Patterned 3D Silicon Anode Fabricated by Electrodeposition on a Virus Structured Current Collector

Electrochemical methods were developed for the deposition of nanosilicon onto a 3D virus-structured nickel current collector. This nickel current collector is composed of self-assembled nanowire-like rods of genetically modified tobacco mosaic virus (TMV1cys), chemically coated in nickel to create a complex high surface area conductive substrate. The electrochemically depo­sited 3D silicon anodes demonstrate outstanding rate performance, cycling stability, and rate capability. Electrodeposition thus provides a unique means of fabricating silicon anode materials on complex substrates at low cost.

Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering – Nanostructured nickel electrodes using the Tobacco mosaic virus for microbattery applications

The development of nanostructured nickel–zinc microbatteries utilizing the Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) is presented in this paper. The TMV is a high aspect ratio cylindrical plant virus which has been used to increase the active electrode area in MEMS-fabricated batteries. Genetically modifying the virus to display multiple metal binding sites allows for electroless nickel deposition and self-assembly of these nanostructures onto gold surfaces. This work focuses on integrating the TMV deposition and coating process into standard MEMS fabrication techniques as well as characterizing nickel–zinc microbatteries based on this technology. Using a microfluidic packaging scheme, devices with and without TMV structures have been characterized. The TMV modified devices demonstrated charge–discharge operation up to 30 cycles reaching a capacity of 4.45 µAh cm−2 and exhibited a six-fold increase in capacity during the initial cycle compared to planar electrode geometries. The effect of the electrode gap has been investigated, and a two-fold increase in capacity is observed for an approximately equivalent decrease in electrode spacing.

Other researchers have tried to use TMV for drug delivery

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