A new generation of power: Hi-tech rechargeable batteries developed for military

August 23, 2010
A new generation of power: Hi-tech rechargeable batteries developed for military
High-performance batteries could soon be woven into fabrics such as military uniforms to provide rechargeable clothing. Credit: Craig DeBourbon

Scientists reported progress today in using a common virus to develop improved materials for high-performance, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that could be woven into clothing to power portable electronic devices. They discussed development of the new materials for the battery's cathode, or positive electrode, at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), being held this week.

These new power sources could in the future be woven into fabrics such as uniforms or ballistic vests, and poured or sprayed into containers of any size and shape, said Mark Allen, Ph.D., who presented the report. He is a postdoc in Angela Belcher's group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). These conformable batteries could power smart phones, GPS units, and other portable electronic devices.

"We're talking about fabrics that also are batteries," Allen said. "The batteries, once woven into clothing, could provide power for a range of high-tech devices, including handheld radios, GPS devices and personal digital assistants. They could also be used in everyday cell phones and smart phones."

Batteries produce electricity by converting into electrical energy using two electrodes — an and — separated by an electrolyte. At the ACS meeting, Allen described development of new cathodes made from an iron-fluoride material that could soon produce lightweight and flexible batteries with minimal loss of power, performance, or chargeability compared to today's rechargeable sources.

Allen has extended ground-breaking work done last year by MIT scientist Angela Belcher and her colleagues, who were the first to engineer a virus as a biotemplate for preparing anodes and cathodes. The virus, called M13 bacteriophage, consists of an outer coat of protein surrounding an inner core of genes. It infects bacteria and is harmless to people.

"Using M13 as a template is an example of , an environmentally friendly method of producing the battery," Allen said. "It enables the processing of all materials at room temperature and in water." And these materials, he said, should be less dangerous than those used in current lithium-ion batteries because they produce less heat, which reduces flammability risks.

The Belcher Biomaterials group is in the beginning stages of testing and scaling up the virus-enabled battery materials, which includes powering unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance operations. Making light-weight and long-lasting batteries that could result in rechargeable clothing would have several advantages for both military personnel and civilians, Allen added.

"Typical soldiers have to carry several pounds of batteries. But if you could turn their clothing into a battery pack, they could drop a lot of weight. The same could be true for frequent business travellers ― the road warriors ― who lug around batteries and separate rechargers for laptop computers, cell phones, and other devices. They could shed some weight."

Explore further: Virus battery could power cars, electronic devices

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not rated yet Aug 23, 2010
Two words:
Bicycle frames.
not rated yet Aug 24, 2010
miniaturized plasma turbines would be more effective in contrast.
2 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2010
Everything is developed for the military in this country. We spend 25% of GDP on military, which is like 2 times higher than ALL OTHER COUNTRIES COMBINED!

not rated yet Aug 24, 2010
Everything is developed for the military in this country. We spend 25% of GDP on military, which is like 2 times higher than ALL OTHER COUNTRIES COMBINED!

What's your point?
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2010
So the army pays for the R&D, the innovations still end up in the market.
1 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2010
mmm... so damaging your clothes could leak the virus say to maybe an open wound ?
5 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2010
mmm... so damaging your clothes could leak the virus say to maybe an open wound ?

She is using the virus protein coat (capsid) as a scaffold, they cannot actually reproduce once converted.
I am curious what the energy density is on the M13 material compared to something made with nanotubes. She has published work with the same virus as a water oxidation catalyst and it had relatively low performance compared to other WOCs.
1 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2010
I admit, I'm silly by very nature - but I cannot see the advantage of batteries woven into clothing instead inside of devices, which are requiring them. If nothing else, it's just another additional wire, which is required in such arrangement.
not rated yet Aug 29, 2010
i would think that modifying bodyarmor to double as blocks of ceramic supercapacitor sandwiches will give much higher power density and power output, while at the same time make sensible use of weight you'd have to carry anyway and be able to sustainably power the upcoming load carrying / exoskeleton designs that would enable to have soldiers walk around with heavier loads or even heavier armor, i would think a heavy armored foot soldier largely resistant to ak-47 or out of the blue sniper shots or even IED is the way to go in this era of close urban combat and give at decisive upper hand against terrorists using asymmetrical warfare tactics
not rated yet Aug 29, 2010
In effect this would mean the other party would have to use RPG or heavy IED just to take out one or two heavily armored soldiers wich is hugely expensive, not unlike the extraordinairy expensive ways of the US using close air support and Hellfire missiles and 500 pound JDAM to take out one lonely sniper, wich only makes sense if you have ultradeep pockets, wich the terrorists don't have and the US, well at least they pretend to have them ;-) There is no doubt in my mind that the expensive war on terror has contributed/cataclized the financial crisis, its time to turn the tables against them and bring them in a financial / logistic crisis by significantly raising the price for taking out foot soldiers
not rated yet Aug 29, 2010
Also one very popular mode of operation is the use of mobile phones to detonate IED, now the US has learned from this the hard way and their convoys are now equipped with jammers, but the other side is trying to catch up to circumvate the jammers, it would be advantage if the US not only be able to jam the IED trigger, but also in real time the convoy could triangulate the caller (wich most likely be in the line of sight to time his IED attack) and have a fire and forget button to allow some smart mortar munition to home in on the caller and make this a rather expensive phonecall...
not rated yet Aug 30, 2010
Husky, before we deploy our fire-and-forget device against cell phone terrorists we'd have to invent the "Automatic PR Avoidance Device" to convince journalists to look the other way when we have a machine automatically kill someone for using a cell phone

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