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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 In a fascinating followup at Popular Mechanics, Belcher now says that her unpublished work includes full-scale models of the batteries themselves, and that they could power everything from cars and laptops to medical devices and wearable armor.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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  • Re:Efficiency? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dafrazzman ( 1246706 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @01:32AM (#24790511)
    When you discover something, typical procedure is to make a paper on it. Instead, MIT went ahead and worked on development before announcing the fundamental concept discovered. Maybe not "secret," but highly unusual.
  • Re:Make product (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:06AM (#24790725) Journal

    Bring product to market.

    Stop blabbering on and do it already.

    Think about what you're saying here.
    Is MIT, a university, going to bring this technology to market?

    We always hear about research because the people doing it need to show it off so that they can find business & manufacturing partners to bring it to market. Quitely shopping it around isn't the way its done.

  • Re:Efficiency? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by matt_martin ( 159394 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:21AM (#24790811) Homepage Journal

    There is no mention that the batteries are even functional.
    Just stated that they made "parts of batteries" : stacked some layers, patterened them, used a virus to help deposit another layer, stacked more layers and issued a press release! Phase 3, profit (from renewed grant).

    Hard for the casual observer to see how this improves on the usual film deposition methods, other than not requiring vacuum chambers, pumps, etc.

    And while we're at it, mega-efficient isn't very meaningful when describing batteries - high energy density would be a lot more appropriate if it were true.

    But hey, its alt-energy, from MIT and this is Slashdot - rock on !

  • by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:22AM (#24790813)

    Wasn't it Popular Mechanics that predicted in the 1970's that by the year 2000, robots would be doing all of the work, and we could all be sitting by the pool, sipping on Daiquiris? Unfortunately, they forgot about how people were going to get a paycheck. I can't believe even Slashdot would mention anything from Popular Mechanics.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:22AM (#24790815) Homepage

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

    They've actually built things, that work, though the 3rd component the cathode is still apparently a work in progress. The summary says "models", which of course means something specific to /.ers, but that isn't the reality reflected in the articles.

  • Re:Efficiency? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:32AM (#24790869) Homepage Journal

    Bahahaha.. ya kidding right? Maybe that's what is "usual" in academia but everyone else in the world gets down to the business of tinkering and seeing what the discovery is worth long before they even think about telling the world, let alone writing a non-opaque scientific paper about it.

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

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @03:09AM (#24791047)

    We also hear about research because this is Slashdot: News for Nerds. If you only want to hear about ready-to-use products, go to Best Buy.

  • Re:I have a virus (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2008 @03:17AM (#24791087)


  • by Ace905 ( 163071 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @03:53AM (#24791217) Homepage

    It's obvious that weaving these batteries into fibre (for example) or just the fact that they can create such tiny batteries is hugely advantageous from an engineering perspective. Now clothes can be powered, etc.

    What isn't clear is why would you want these batteries to power your car? I don't really see any discussion on whether these pack more power than a 50lb car battery would. From the description it sounds like they're just regular batteries which expire, but are tiny. So by my no-math-involved logic, 50lbs of these nano-batteries should pack about the same punch as a regular 50lb car battery.

    Am I wrong about this? Do the infected bacteria constantly replenish the components of the battery making them more like a generator that runs on raw materials ? Because it doesn't look like that, it looks like they create the components, stop the process and put them together.

    Very very cool, but it sounds like the same technology we've always had is the end product. Please tell me I'm wrong, I want this to be the mini nuclear generator powering our cars we were all promised in the 1950's.

    "Can we stick it on the head of a pin? People love it when we do that"

  • by UpUpDownDown ( 972439 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @04:11AM (#24791301)

    Isn't Popular Mechanics the rag where half-baked technologies go to die? Right after the part where they will revolutionize All Life As We Know It? And right before the part where The Idea is killed by an Evil Conspiracy?

    They are usually late with the important news and way too early with stuff that will eventually crash and burn. Not that they can't build a raging headline and a totally misleading cover out of it.

    I stopped going to Popular Mechanics for my cutting edge technology news when I was about nine years old. They are long on hype and short on details - not to mention short on discrimination in their editorial department.

    Excuse me, but the nuclear battery in my flying car is running low. Gotta run...

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

    by salec ( 791463 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @04:43AM (#24791495)

    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.

    Oh, no, that is not complete story of what this bugs could do. Think about it for a moment:

    1. those are big-molecule-sized particle batteries.
    2. You can construct them in such a matter that their terminals can be accessed only trough specific shape of (molecular, e.g. an enzyme) connectors.
    3. You can make each terminal incompatible with opposite polarity terminal, allowing for suspending those batteries in a liquid, or, if the batteries can bond with each other through (weak) hydrogen bonds, a large mass of them might already be in liquid form.

    Now, what is that all together? An "electric fuel", something that might power electric cars, but refuel on pump stations in same time ICE cars refuel. Car would have nanobatteries' processing unit, which would allow parallel connection of great many such batteries, pumped from the "fresh" tank. Once discharged in processor, batteries would be would be pumped into "used" tank.

    Bonus points for hypothetical clever battery design that would spoil terminals' shape if battery is empty as it would allow processor to be installed in "fresh" tank and just keep the tank stirred enough. Once processor squeezes out all the "juice", battery should fall off it, allowing connection with another, fresh battery to commence.

  • by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @05:39AM (#24791817) Homepage Journal

    Actually, I'm curious how this is supposed to work. Aside from people always finding something to do, I really can't see why we couldn't be sitting by the pool. I mean, obviously, work still needs to be done. 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?

  • Re:Make product (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eggnoglatte ( 1047660 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @06:07AM (#24791937)

    Friends & family for financing a material science startup? Your family must be a lot richer than mine.

    As for angel investors, how do you suppose they hear about your invention & plans?

    And yeah, I have been through the whole startup thing. Seems like you are the one who is clueless.

  • by eggnoglatte ( 1047660 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @06:17AM (#24791983)

    There is just no pleasing some people. These guys have been consistently working away on a hard problem, making progress along the way, published their work, so others can run their own experiments, and worked towards a product.

    Meanwhile, what exactly have you been doing?

    Like somebody else said, if you only want final products, go to Best Buy.

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

    by afxgrin ( 208686 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @06:31AM (#24792069)

    The approach they're taking makes complete sense.

    If they have a way of significantly improving batteries, they're holding the key to enabling a lot of technologies that have been waiting on better batteries....

    I think it's fair that Angela Belcher has us by the balls...

  • by allawalla ( 1030240 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @07:07AM (#24792261)
    The key words are published earlier this month in PNAS. A working cathode prototype is the only unpublished news. Which isn't very exciting to someone that doesn't know anything about the mechanistic differences between an anode and a cathode anyway. Not compared to using bugs to build batteries.
  • Can't Reproduce? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @08:29AM (#24792849)

    The M13 viruses used by the team can't reproduce by themselves and are only capable of infecting bacteria.

    How is the fact that they can only infect bacteria relevant? I have plenty of essential bacteria that I consider more or less my organs. That is not any better than saying it can only infect kidney cells.

    If they cannot reproduce (even after infecting a bacterium) it shouldn't matter, as there should not be a sufficient amount of these to stop anything.

    However, if these things are being mass produced, it seems to me the odds are that pretty soon at least one virus will show up that can reproduce itself. The question is: how many mistakes in transcribing the virus' genome in the lab would be required to allow it to reproduce?

    Copying errors are the heart of evolution, and they will happen even on the production line.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @08:45AM (#24793009) Journal
    Not a problem; Push for nukes and AE, and the lead will go away. China now emits about 1/2 of the world's lead and America still emits about 1/3 (cleaner coal; some minor scrubbers). If these 2 countries move away from coal, you would see a major drop in lead in our fish within 5 years.
  • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @08:45AM (#24793011)

    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?

    And you most certainly could RIGHT NOW. You would just have to scale back your standard of living to the time when humans were doing all the work. Back to a family of 4 in a 1000sq.ft. home, with no AC and a max of one car per family. Going to see a movie would be an event. Most people prefer their McMansion with constant entertainment. "Stuff" cost money, and the level of spending generally outpaces the increases in pay scales.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @09:43AM (#24793665) Homepage

    "Prototypes" mean something specific to us too.. and it isn't "2 out of 3 critical components, not even integrated yet".

    Actually, it can, because they can be prototypes of the components. Two of which have been integrated. And they've made full, working batteries, just not using their cathode technology yet.

    Why don't you just RTFA instead of continuing to poo-poo their accomplishment based on a single word taken out of context, the first one you latched onto not even existing in the article? Right, right, I must be new here.

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

    by Molochi ( 555357 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @12:59PM (#24797075)

    post to remove accidental troll mod.

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Friday August 29, 2008 @02:20PM (#24798313) Journal

    Apparently "viruses", an English construction, is preferred, as virus in Latin was a mass noun, and, although conversion of mass nouns to singular nouns (thus requiring a plural form) is not unknown in Latin, there are no known other examples of the form from which virus comes. Hence one couldn't pluralize it via Latin rules even if one wanted to, barring a time machine to go visit ancient Rome, and an anal retentive etymologist in ancient Rome, at that.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.