Virax: The Next Frontier For Energy Storage

How do Batteries Work?

The components of a lithium-ion battery.

What is the Problem with Lithium Batteries?

The four main types of energy transfers: mechanical, chemical, electrical, thermal, and electrical.
  • They are constrained by kinetic limitations, and research in nanoparticles has been slow and costly.
  • They have low ionic and electric conductivity, which can be improved with carbon nanotubes.
  • The materials inside of the batteries are toxic and have harmful organic solvents.

Quantifying the Problem

Current energy densities for various fossil fuels and types of batteries.

What is the Problem with Energy Storage?

Enter Virus-Based Batteries

Current methods of virus-based batteries, as done by MIT. (Image Source)
  • Nanoparticles are costly: This is largely due to the expensive mechanisms that are needed to assemble these nanoparticles together at such a small scale. By utilizing virus manpower, we can assemble these nanoparticles into fully-functioning carbon nanotubes for electron transport, thus removing much of the cost associated with nanoparticle production.
  • Low ionic and electronic conductivity: This can be fixed with carbon nanotube structures that will lead to faster electron transport from the anode to the cathode. As mentioned earlier, these carbon nanotube structures will be created through viral genetic engineering. More on that below!
  • Environmental problems: Because viruses are made of biological materials and can easily degrade over time, these viruses add little to no negative effect on the atmosphere over time. Granted, current solutions with virus-based batteries still have one lithium terminal, but research has already shown that this lithium terminal can be replaced with a viral-created terminal in the near future.
  • Energy lifetime: Because of the reproductive rate of these viruses, as long as the positive feedback loop between the battery component and the viral component continues, the virus should be able to reproduce and maintain its colony indefinitely within the battery host. Of course, this hasn’t been proved scientifically, but research by MIT shows these viruses can live far longer than conventional batteries.
  • Inefficient energy storage: Because viral batteries are a completely new type of energy storage, they will take much less time to come to market, as they will not be wrapped up in as many governmental regulations. This allows for faster time to market and less time spent in validation research.

What is the Problem with Virus-Based Batteries?

The electrochemical performance of the viral nanowires when tested with voltage capacities between 2V and 4.3V. The left graph shows discharge curves at different rates depending on capacitance, while the right graph shows the Rangone plot representing the specific power vs. specific energy for the active electrode. Note the severe drop in specific power with an incremental increase in specific energy.
  • Specific Power — how much power a battery can deliver in a single cycle
  • Lifetime — how long the battery can sustain until its specific power drops below some threshold value
  • Cycle Deficiency — how quickly does the specific power of the virus decrease

Battery Vocabulary

The three common metrics for batteries: specific power, specific energy, and energy density. (Image Source)

Machine Learning for Optimal Virus and Coating Type

Inputs

Virus-Based Inputs

The current UI for the viruSITE dataset. (Image Source)

Coating-Based Inputs

The various chemical components that must be monitored to ensure maximal efficacy in terms of specific power and specific capacity inside of a lithium ion battery. (Image Source)

High-Throughput DNA Sequencing (NGS)

A visual representation of how high-throughput sequencing works.
  • Library Prep: This step helps prepare certain DNA and RNA samples to be compatible with the DNA sequencer that is being used. These libraries are usually created by fragmenting DNA and adding adaptors to each end which allows for easier amplification and purification.
  • Sequencing: Libraries are added to a flow cell and placed into the sequencer. These DNA fragments are amplified through cluster generation, resulting in millions of copies. Then, using SBS or sequencing by synthesis, tagged nucleotides bind to the DNA template strand. Since these tagged nucleotides are engineered to have fluorescent capabilities, it can note which nucleotide has been added. After reading the DNA strand with this, the reads are washed away, and the same is done for the reverse strand.
  • Data Informatics: Then, the software identifies nucleotides and pairs nucleotide sequences together to reconstruct a full picture of the genome. Then, data analysis can be ran to analyze this data. In our case, the data will be passed into our input pipeline.

Outputs

Cycle deficiency can be seen in this capacity vs. cycle number graph. The position of the “knee point” in the graph can tell us what the cycle deficiency is. (Image Source)

Issues — Underfitting, Dimensionality, and Testing

Underfitting with respect to the model complexity. (Image Source)
Inputs in 3D space — Note the complexity with only 3 features, while the model that will likely be used for this will have hundreds of features with very little input.

Other Approaches

An explanation of the k-means clustering algorithm that will be used to cluster similar viruses together.

The Process

  • Using clustering and neural network models to determine the optimal virus and coating for maximal specific power, lifetime, and viral cycle deficiency over time.
  • Genetically engineering environmentally-friendly viruses to substitute chemically harmful lithium battery electrodes for slower cycle power degradation, higher energy density, and battery lifetime.

Introduction to Viruses

The structure of the pVIII protein inside the M13 bacteriophage. (Image Source)
The various parts of the M13 bacteriophage. (Image Source)
  • Rapid reproduction — This is useful to us, as it allows for longer lifetime of the battery and faster assemblance of carbon nanotubes inside of the battery.
  • Acellular — Since these viruses have no cytoplasm or cellular organelles, it makes it much easier to genetically engineer these viruses by inserting plasmids.
  • Response to stimulation — This is important for our purposes because it allows us to add certain affinities to materials, which will be gone into more depth below.
  • Hijacking of DNA/RNA — Since the virus is acting as the host in this scenario, this does not apply to a virus-based battery.
  • Viral component assembly — Viral components are made inside of the cell for viral reproduction, which means that viruses that are prone to mutation must be filtered out of the ML algorithm process.
https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/600/1*BvuroHFsSadLU8wc9hXokw.png
  • The purple-pink protrusions are its envelope proteins, small membrane proteins that help with virion assembly and morphogenesis (the biological process that allows a cell or organism to develop its specific shape inside the nuclear envelope for structural formation of the organism).
  • The pink ring on the virus is the fatty/viral envelope, which is a membrane typically made from the proteins and phospholipids of the virus’ various hosts, as well as some of its naturally produced glycoproteins.
  • On the inside, there are yellow globules called capsids, which are the vehicles that pass the viral genes from the (green-colored) stringlike genome. To synthesize viral genes, the blue, cloudy labyrinth is are enzymes, called polymerases and transcriptase (et cetera) that lower the activation energy needed for the reaction creating nucleic acids to occur, speeding up the synthesis of DNA/RNA.

The M13 Virus

The schematic structure of the M13 virus and its major proteins, including pIII and pVIII. (Image Source)

Replicating the M13 Virus With Growth Receptors

Using the M13 Virus

The method to take the genetically modified peptide sequence for the M13 bacteriophage and add affinities for SWNTs and iron phosphate for increased electrical conductivity of the virus through the anode terminal of the battery after connection with the lithium cathode.
Iron phosphate nanowires interacting with the M13 viral strain under tunnel electron microscope imaging (x 30,000 and x 800,000 respectively).
  • The E4 virus was genetically engineered to contain peptide groups with an affinity for single-walled carbon nanotubes. This was altered through a modification fo the pIII protein, where a common carbon nanotube-binding sequence was attached to the N-terminus of pIII.
  • Silver nanoparticles were produced on the virus to increase electronic conductivity. These nanoparticles were modified to contain certain chemicals that the viruses have been genetically engineered to express affinity to in the pVIII major coat protein.
  • These were precisely confirmed by direct current plasma atomic emission spectroscopy, which is a type of spectroscopy that uses three electrodes to produce a plasma stream produced by contacting the cathode with the anodes. This can be used to determine the amount of nanoparticles being produced into the virus, since measurements must be precise due to the volatility of the virus.
  • The silver nanoparticles were then chlorinated and reduced to silver to enhance local electronic conductivity through the nanowires.
  • The E4 virus was genetically engineered to contain peptide groups with an affinity for nucleating amorphous phosphate fused to a viral coat protein, which allowed for increased electrochemical conductivity and higher voltage.
  • Iron phosphate groups were added to the battery after being dehydrated by thermal annealing at a temperature of 400 degrees Celsius.
  • Reproduce the virus in a contained environment to stabilize the specific capacity. Use growth receptors as mentioned above to speed up the replication.
  • Attach the virus as the anodes of the battery by placing battery components inside of a precipitate and stimulate the virus.
  • To genetically engineer the M13 virus as a multibiological platform, the MC#1 sequence (N′-HGHPYQHLLRVL-C′) and the MC#2 sequence (N′-DMPRTTMSPPPR-C′) were fused into the N-terminus of the pIII of the E4 virus, which already had the desired gVIII change from above.
  • Viruses were incubated with the single-walled carbon nanotubes to form nanostructures.
  • This structure was added as part of the anode, while a lithium ion was used for the cathode.
  • The battery was connected to a LED to show functionality of the battery.

Evaluating the M13 Virus

  • Postive electrodes were created by mixing iron phosphate with polytetrafluoroethylene to monitor the discharge capacity of the M13 viruses over a period of a hundred cycles.
  • These numbers were presented as a Ragone plot, which helps for the comparison of various energy densities for different battery types.
  • Tunneling electron microscope images can be taken to determine how the virus is growing over time.

Results

The electrochemical performance of the nanowires when tested between 2V and 4.3V and with genetic engineering of both the pIII and gVIII of the M13 bacteriophage. Note the significant drops in specific capacity and power for these viruses, which are some of the significant problems with this experiment.

Future Steps — Machine Learning for Energy Lifetime

Applications

Virus-based batteries in electric cars — the future of electric batteries. (Image Source)
Note the dramatic drop in Tesla batteries after a SoC (state of charge) of 40%. This means that even though average lifetime can be several years, the usage lifetime will be much shorter than that, especially if the car is being placed under heavy load. Virus batteries can scale accordingly and don’t deal with conventional battery problems and thus will not have a SoC problem.

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Harbingers of disease? We think future of energy storage.

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Harbingers of disease? We think future of energy storage.