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Power Science Technology

MIT Secretly Built Mega-Efficient Nano Batteries 195

mattnyc99 writes "There was plenty of chatter last week about an MIT announcement that researcher Angela Belcher had developed a way to create virus-based nanoscale batteries to power mini gadgets of the future. In a fascinating followup at Popular Mechanics, Belcher now says that her unpublished work includes full-scale models of the batteries themselves, and that they could power everything from cars and laptops to medical devices and wearable armor. Quoting: 'We haven't ruled out cars. That's a lot of amplification. But right now the thing is trying to make the best material possible, and if we get a really great material, then we have to think about how do you scale it.'"
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MIT Secretly Built Mega-Efficient Nano Batteries

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  • Efficiency? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday August 29, 2008 @01:22AM (#24790455) Homepage Journal
    I see nothing in those articles about these batteries being "mega efficient", as the title of this Slashdot post screams. The novelty seems to be the fact that they're grown using viruses and can be applied in thin films.
  • Re:Efficiency? (Score:4, Informative)

    by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @01:26AM (#24790487)
    It doesn't say anything about any secrecy either, and they haven't actually built anything yet, except full scale models (whatever that means). I guess the only accurate part of the title is that it's something to do with MIT and batteries.
  • Re:Make product (Score:3, Informative)

    by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @01:51AM (#24790605)
    lemme explain why they haven't yet in case you missed how they phrased it. They built a "model" of the battery. They still haven't nailed down how to make the inside part work or how to build a real one. I could take out my legos and build a car battery sized box and say it's a "model" of what a magic battery would look like and say I haven't quite figured out how to make it generate electricity. This isn't news, this is like someone drawing a picture of a flying car and having no idea how to build it or make it fly but releasing a press release anyway.
  • Re:Make product (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:16AM (#24790787) Homepage


    For one, your lego battery wouldn't even work in theory. An actual scientific model is supposed to represent what would work as well as possible.

    For two, they aren't just using a model. They've actual built components of this.

    A much-buzzed-about paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month details the team's success in creating two of the three parts of a working battery--the positively charged anode and the electrolyte. But team leader Angela Belcher told PM Wednesday that the team has been seriously working on cathode technology for the past year, creating several complete prototypes. "

    The M13 viruses used by the team can't reproduce by themselves and are only capable of infecting bacteria. At just 880 nanometers long--500 times smaller than a grain of salt--the bugs allow researchers to work at room temperatures and pressures with molecular precision, using and wasting fewer hazardous materials in the process. Now that they've demonstrated the construction of such tiny electronic components is possible, the challenge facing researchers is how to make them practical."

    As in the virus "inside part" is actually done. They've also got the anode construction done. They're working on the cathode.

    This is a practical engineering project at this point. This is news. Who knows if it will end up "practical", but nevertheless it is real whether you rtfa or not.

  • Re:Make product (Score:3, Informative)

    by eltardo ( 160932 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:17AM (#24790797)

    The last 6 or 7 paragraphs explain what progress they've made on these things. Seems to be a bit farther along than a "model". So far they've got 2 out of their 3 bits created already. It'll be nice to see an update on this when they get a bit further along, though.

  • Re:Make product (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:20AM (#24790805) Homepage Journal

    Heh, that's exactly how it's done. You recognize that the research has commercial application, ask for spin-off rights, found a startup company, build a prototype, then get investors. The result is a whole lot of secrecy, and, eventually, an actual product.

    On the other hand, if all you're trying to do is create buzz and get more government grant money, you make press releases.

  • Re:Efficiency? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @03:12AM (#24791059)

    Uh, they did? The article says they wrote a paper about their anodes and electrolytes (I expect the electrolyte isn't such a big deal).

    So they made some viruses that are supposed to make little wires. Then they used the viruses to make some little wires. Then they wrote a paper. Then they worked on some more viruses to make some other wires that could be used as the other necessary component of a battery. And they're writing another paper.

    That really sounds like pretty much how it's supposed to happen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2008 @05:47AM (#24791863)

    It's VIRUSES, not virii, or viri, or any other variation of that word!

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @06:42AM (#24792123)

    But if we get more efficient at that (e.g. by building machines that then do the work with fewer human hours involved), we _should_, on average, have more free time for a given level of prosperity, right?

          The Law of Diminishing Returns is universal. We can't ALL sit by the pool. Someone has to clean it.

          As you increase a "level of prosperity" the TYPE of work may change - from picking berries in a field 14 hours a day to analyzing power-point presentations in teleconferences over the internet 7 hours a day - but you still have to work. There can only be one or two really really rich guys per 100 population, it's a time-honored scale. You may be far "richer" than the berry picker, but only the really really rich guy gets to sit by the pool. And not even that (or he won't be rich for long - snooze and you lose).

          The pool is for weekends.

  • Re:Make product (Score:4, Informative)

    by AmaDaden ( 794446 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @09:42AM (#24793653)

    "The cathode material has been a little more difficult, but we have several different candidates, and we have made full, working batteries."

    They HAVE made working models. They are just trying to perfect the process.

  • by calzplace ( 253241 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @11:41AM (#24795619)

    This is what's called The Three Stooges Effect [] ... INDESTRUCTIBLE!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2008 @01:21PM (#24797417)

    See Wikipedia ( for more details.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.