More than car batteries – Weird battery technology for a powerful future

Electric Vehicles Recharging

MIT Biological Engineer Angela Belcher is using viruses to help create environmentally friendly batteries, harnessing evolution itself. Wireless charging for electric cars is about to make the entire re-fuelling process a great deal easier. And batteries made from unusual things are set to boost our renewable future. Things are looking pretty exciting in the weird world of battery technology, and the results make bog standard car batteries look very clunky and old fashioned indeed. So what’s going on?

Grow your own battery power
Angela Belcher believes batteries don’t need to harm the environment. In way, the batteries she’s developing are made from the environment, since viruses are absolutely everywhere, from the ocean to the air, the earth and inside us.

She’s been looking at using viruses to grow materials for electrodes. It involves tinkering with a tubular virus’ genes to make it produce a protein coat that binds naturally to compounds like cobalt oxides and iron phosphates. The team were able to grow tiny nanowires with the compounds, which they then used in an electrode for an experimental lithium-ion bio-battery. In Belcher’s words, “We hope to use viruses to power everyday electronics and the cars of the future”.

Wireless electric car charging on the way
Once you can simply charge your electric vehicle wirelessly, the whole game changes. It’s another step in the right environmental direction. It’s all about inductive charging. And it’s already being used experimentally to power buses in Britain.

Charging an EV the usual way is tough going. The cables are a pain in the butt and easily get lost or damaged. Now wireless power transfer technology, which was developed decades ago, is becoming much more efficient, so much so that it’s making waves in the battery arena. The new technology allows an energy efficiency transfer rate of 90% or more, bringing it into the realms of commercial reality for the first time.

Generating power from glass and ice
Portland General Electric, in the USA, has turned to ice. They’ll soon start using icy slush to store spare wind-generated energy. It’s just one of a collection of futuristic-sounding initiatives designed to improve the storage of energy generated from renewables. Another Portland-based firm is experimenting with a flow battery containing a solution if iron and water, where electricity is stored by seeding iron ions with extra electrons. At the same time, California-based Halogenics is developing a glass that flows like a liquid, with a low enough melting point to become an energy storage medium.

These are only three stories from a fast-growing collection of remarkable battery tech developments. Right now we’re still stuck with the traditional heavy duty car battery. But watch this space – a car battery revolution could be just around the corner. In the meantime we stock a massive range. Next time you need cheap car batteries, walk this way.