Walking down the street can one day help power our electronic gadgets. The idea may come true with a twist on the concept coming from a common virus. With a virus's unique traits and conservation of energy principles, researchers at Berkeley Labs have created the world's first organic piezoelectric material. A harmless virus is used to create electrical energy from mechanical energy and may one day be embedded into the sole of our shoes to charge our electric devices.
The research is still in the beginning stages, however, scientist have managed to assemble an electrical generator using an electrode coated with a specially engineered virus to power a LCD display. With the tap of a finger on the electrode, the force gets converted into electrical energy, and a small image appears on the LCD. The first applications of this research can lead to a paper thin generator that can be mounted onto moving objects or any object that experiences a force on a regular basis.
The driving effect used in the experiment is called piezoelectricity generated from the virus. The M13 virus used is coated with helical proteins that release electrical energy when twisted and turned. To amplify this effect scientist added negatively charged particles to the outer layer of the virus which resulted in a larger potential energy output. The output of their LCD experiment yielded 6 nanoamps at 400 millivolts, just enough power to flash the number one on the LCD.
Test setup (via Berkely Labs)
Many piezoelectric devices are toxic making working with them difficult. However, the M13 virus is nontoxic and self-assembles into sheets. These properties make working with it to create small generators more simple than previous methods. We may soon be using small electrical generators during everyday tasks without even knowing it. The small films could possibly be connected to cars, doors, shoes, and bikes to help us save on our electric bills.