The researchers looked to viruses as a new material to work with because they reproduce rapidly and align far better than other materials, making them good candidates to accumulate a charge on one end of the virus.
The researchers then genetically engineered the virus with proteins that enhance the buildup of charge on the ends of the rod-shaped viruses. The viruses only attack other bacteria so are considered benign. The viruses are stacked onto thin films and then several thin films are layered to build up as much voltage as possible.
The Lawrence Berkeley Lab group isn’t the first to pursue viruses as a means for building up electric charge. Researchers at MIT in 2009 said they were able to wire a charge-building virus to a lithium ion battery. The Lawrence Berkeley Lab’s prototype was only able to generate about a quarter of the voltage of a triple A battery, but they believe that their approach to “viral electronics” can scale up.