The science of energy doesn’t work along GCSE exam paper lines.
Biology and chemistry can answer the questions traditionally posed by physics – and there’s few finer recent examples of this than the US Government-funded research into the piezoelectric properties of a biological material – turning the movement of viruses into electricity, for the uninitiated.
We’ve been in fairly similar territory before on this blog – we had a look into the world of microbe-based lighting.
This is obviously a bit different though. It’s about the twisting and turning of viruses when put in an electrical field, increasing the voltage of the viruses by adding charged amino acid residues, and sticking this modified biological volt-maker between gold-plated electrodes.
All this is very promising, but a few clarifications are probably necessary. This technology ain’t never going to power scores of homes and factories – they’ve got up to the equivalent of quarter of the voltage of a triple-A battery so far, it’s more for the small but vital applications of electricity. But of course, small is big these days: think of all the hand-held devices that have become quickly indispensable to us modern types.
There’s the potential to make a difference, then, but the second caveat is that this is a ‘proof-of-principle demonstration’ i.e. it’s not particularly near market yet. But the ambition is there to do just that, so we’re just going to have to wish Godspeed to those viruses – not something that would be advisable in many other circumstances.
And finally, before worldwide panic ensues, it would probably be worth mentioning that the viruses involved are harmless to human beings.