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Researchers Generate Electricity From Viruses

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the common-cold-powered dept.

Power 85

First time accepted submitter toomuchtogrok writes "Imagine charging your phone as you walk, thanks to a paper-thin generator embedded in the sole of your shoe. This futuristic scenario is now a little closer to reality. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity. The scientists tested their approach by creating a generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid-crystal display. It works by tapping a finger on a postage stamp-sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses. The viruses convert the force of the tap into an electric charge."

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Er (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993645)

I for one welcome our new specially engineered virus overlords.

Re:Er (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993667)

Your butt stinks.

Re:Er (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993743)

Indeed. My butt does stink.

It's a good thing .... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993649)

it's a good thing viruses don't mutate.

Re:It's a good thing .... (3, Informative)

thomas8166 (1244688) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993703)

it's a good thing viruses don't mutate.

According to TFA It's a bacteriophage, meaning it only infects bacteria. Using viruses for nanotechnology isn't really new; a type of gold-coated bacteriophage nanowire was designed by an MIT team a few years back.

Re:It's a good thing .... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993903)

it's a good thing viruses don't mutate.

According to TFA It's a bacteriophage, meaning it only infects bacteria. Using viruses for nanotechnology isn't really new; a type of gold-coated bacteriophage nanowire was designed by an MIT team a few years back.

Thank goodness one of my major internal organs doesn't depend on bacteria to operate!

Re:It's a good thing .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993915)

Some bacteria are essential for human life. We wouldn't be able to digest various food stuffs without them. So a bacteriophage is something pretty dangerous, especially if it affects bacteria in humans or in any animal or insect in our food chain. Plus, if the virus mutates, it could be affecting bacteria it didn't before. So, the article should be tagged "whatcouldpossiblygowrong".

Re:It's a good thing .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39995081)

No, I do hope you are a troll the idiocy is too much otherwise. Everything you do to lab engineered strains of creatures usually either makes them wore in the wild due to deliberate modification or makes them worse at surviving in the wild due to natural adaptation to replicate at the highest speed in the competition devoid ultra specialised lab environment. so what exactly about these viruses would make them better at such things than the much tougher unmodified strains? how could this adaptation even by itself even cause problems, if it spread it would act as an non useful cost and be eliminated by selection. Of coerce this does not mean everything genetically engineered is safe the design principals behind the pesticide resistant crops for example (yay selective pressure right next to spreadable genetic advantage, for weeds related to and capable of interbreeding with the crop plant!) make me want to head desk and do truly deserve such a label but this is safe.

Re:It's a good thing .... (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39995603)

I'd mod you up if I could, you're absolutely right. Even if a bacteriophage can't directly harm humans it could potentially wreak havoc on the microbial ecosystem that forms the foundation on which all complex life depends. The risk is mitigated though by the fact that at least bacteria can (probably) evolve rapidly enough to avoid major problems, unlike complex life that operates several orders of magnitudes slower.

Still, I think these sorts of stories highlight the fact that there's a certain recklessness in the research community that could cause real problems as we start tinkering with self-replicating systems. Reminds me of a TED talk I saw a while back where a researcher studying human brain function and modified some relative harmless cold virus to infect just one of the thousands of types of brain cells and modified their DNA so they would grow photo-receptors on their membranes that, when activated by fiber optics, would either trigger or suppress the cells behavior. Fascinating research, but what struck me was the lack of apparent safeguards against secondary infection - no mention of quarantining the patients or safeguarding the researchers, just a comment that he had carefully selected a virus with a stable genome that was completely harmless, at worst you got a case of the sniffles. I couldn't help but think that no, it used to be harmless, now it modifies people's brain cells. Sure, light receptors in my brain are unlikely to cause a problem directly, but what are the long-term side effects of the modified chemistry on the cells functioning? Not to mention the fact that your delightfully subtle therapeutic or bionic brain interface won't work nearly so well on someone that's already been infected by a few different strains of the virus that are circulating in the wild.

Re:It's a good thing .... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994413)

it's a good thing viruses don't mutate.

What, instead of electricity, they would start producing magnetism?

Re:It's a good thing .... (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994559)

Or alcohol!

Re:It's a good thing .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39995637)

it's a good thing viruses don't mutate.

What, instead of electricity, they would start producing magnetism?

... *facepalm*. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetism [wikipedia.org]

Re:It's a good thing .... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39996073)

First, you are completely missing the point of my post. Second, that link is irrelevant (you get bonus points for figuring why on your own)..

Midichlorians (5, Insightful)

ZiakII (829432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993671)

Thee viruses convert the force

I was thinking of Midichlorians, when I read it but I have no idea where I got it from I do not remember it any of the three Star War Movies.

Re:Midichlorians (0)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993697)

I do not remember it any of the three Star War Movies.

Weren't there 6 movies?

Re:Midichlorians (4, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993755)

No, only 3. Similarly, it's sad they never made a third Godfather movie, or a sequel to the Matrix.

Re:Midichlorians (1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993939)

There was only a series of Matrix cartoons that ranged from slightly interesting to awesome.
There was also that fan-film that ended with a giant mech battle and neo dying.

Re:Midichlorians (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994077)

I just wish they would make a prequel. or are they considering the terminator series the prequel.

And hopefully they use a director that has some skills, not impressed with the Washowski brothers after the first movie.

Re:Midichlorians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39995013)

Blame that on the Watchowski sister's forced feminization due to her live-in dom. Obviously all the later films would be pussy in comparison to the ones scripted utilizing 4 balls instead of 2. :-P

Re:Midichlorians (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39997643)

I like your universe, is there room for one more person in there?

Re:Midichlorians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39998531)

Denial is one of the stages of grief, you'll eventually have to get over it and accept that it happened, even if you don't like the idea.

Re:Midichlorians (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 2 years ago | (#40002205)

I kept hoping for a sequel to Highlander. At least they had the TV show....

Re:Midichlorians (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993837)

I keep hearing that, but I have no idea why. If Lucas made more Star Wars movies, it could have been horrible. Just look at Indiana Jones 4!

Re:Midichlorians (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993897)

Indiana Jones what now?

Re:Midichlorians (2)

Esteanil (710082) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993883)

*waves hand* These are not the movies you're looking for.

Re:Midichlorians (0)

hideouspenguinboy (1342659) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994035)

Midichlorians? Not sure what that is. Midichlorians do not exist in this or any fictional universe.

Re:Midichlorians (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39994527)

Not in any fictional universes? That's a pretty bold statement.
I just thought up a universe where Midichlorians are 3ft tall bacteriophage that juggle their time between their successful techno-synth-pop garage band and their secret superhero team that fights 50ft space amoeba.

Re:Midichlorians (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39997687)

You'd have to spell them MIDIchlorians, technically.. and I'm still thinking how to work "bleach" into this

Re:Midichlorians (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39995125)

Midichlorians? Not sure what that is.

That's probably "mitochondria", only coming from a truly atrocious speller.

Re:Midichlorians (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#40002733)

Of course, if your war movies have only three stars, there won't be any Midichlorians in them. You know, Midichlorians are expensive, they are only used in war movies which have at least four stars.

Carbon Neutral (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993683)

Makes sense. About time Microsoft capitalized on this to go carbon neutral.

Re:Carbon Neutral (2)

trum4n (982031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994543)

The article does not cite throwing chairs. How is this Microsoft related?

Re:Carbon Neutral (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | more than 2 years ago | (#39997513)

he is referring to the numerous ms computer viruses instead of organic ones

Re:Carbon Neutral (1)

trum4n (982031) | more than 2 years ago | (#39997547)

Woooooosh.....

Autonomous Windows PC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39997677)

So if I have enough virusses on my Windows PC, I could unplug the PC from the wall and it would still run?
Challenge accepted!

Generating electricity (3, Interesting)

machine321 (458769) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993687)

Weren't we supposed to have electricity generation from walking on sidewalks, too?

It sucks getting older, and realizing that these stores come out every few years.

Re:Generating electricity (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993789)

The idea of generating power from your shoes is a silly one. Are you going to run wires from your shoes to the pocket your phone is in?

That dumb idea aside, this is just another method of electricity generation; you could likely produce the same amount of power with piezoelectrics for a lot cheaper.

Remember self-winding wristwatches?

Re:Generating electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39994031)

Except that self-winding wristwatches are still being sold (both analog and digital, sometimes using tiny electric generators). They're pretty expensive though, but the technology has matured in the meantime.

Re:Generating electricity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39994047)

Remember self-winding wristwatches?

... Are you implying automatics are some kind of rare novelty, and not something the watch industry sells well and in pretty much every price range?

Re:Generating electricity (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994053)

"The idea of generating power from your shoes is a silly one. Are you going to run wires from your shoes to the pocket your phone is in?"

No, you use step up transformers and convert the electricity to thousands of volts and send it up the legs of the person wearing the shoes.

Re:Generating electricity (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40004763)

Every hair on your body would stand on end. That might be a tad uncomfortable (although at the miniscule amperages all you would feel would be your hair standing on end).

Re:Generating electricity (1)

CSMoran (1577071) | more than 2 years ago | (#40006935)

The idea of generating power from your shoes is a silly one. Are you going to run wires from your shoes to the pocket your phone is in?

But you don't necessarily need wires. You could have a small battery, say the size of an SD card, in the sole of the shoe. Once a similar battery in your phone is low on juice, you'd swap it for the one that lived in the sole of your shoe for the last 6h.

Re:Generating electricity (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#39998329)

all these stories will get added to a iphone in a few years. your iphone will multitask your brain while charging itself from you touching it and sending the charge faster than the speed if light before even you decided to touch it. its the wires man. the freaking wires

Whatever... (3, Interesting)

bosef1 (208943) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993711)

Hey, let's use the most inefficient means possible to extract energy from the human body. I'm still waiting for the inductive charger powered by a fuel cell that runs off my blood sugar. You can sit in your chair, talk on the phone, and still lose weight.

Re:Whatever... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993951)

So you get diabetes but you can play Angry birds indefinitely? Sounds great!

Re:Whatever... (1)

Mortiss (812218) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993963)

You realize that lowering your blood sugar by whatever means will not cause you to loose weight? Rather, your body will have a more of a tendency to go into the "survival mode" where it will hold on to any of the fat that you have and as soon as you eat all nutrients will be stored for your own good. Not to mention feeling of fatigue and hunger caused by the low blood sugar.

Re:Whatever... (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994343)

In the other arm is an IV drip of Krispy Kreme doughnut glaze.

Re:Whatever... (1)

P-niiice (1703362) | more than 2 years ago | (#39996711)

An enema is faster absorption, but requires a special viscosity of glaze. got a little awkward when I asked for it, hehe

Re:Whatever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39994929)

Shows what little you know about actual human biochemistry.

Keeping your body in a state where it has to continusouly and slowly resplenish glucose in the blood, working upwards to a normal glycemia, means your glucagon level is high while your insulin level stays down, and that is the configuration where you are actually depleting your stores of energy: absence of high insulin unlocks the lypolisis enzymes that let you extract fatty acids from your adipocytes, and allows your cells to resume beta-oxidizing the stuff for energy. That means losing weight.

You talk about low blood sugar, but anyone can maintain glycemia using glycogen stores in the liver (2000-3000 calories worth of storage, enough for running a semi-marathon), and even switch to neoglucogenesis which is making glucose from protein, or recycle the glycerol from all the fatty acid making mentioned above, into glucose.

Unless you have some rare condition affecting your adrenal functions or your liver, the only time you cannot maintain proper blood glucose, and suffer hypoglycemia and all its hallmark effects (fatigue, dizziness, craving snacks), is when your insulin level stays high from having risen way too much from a carbohydrates-rich meal (chemical inertia), and even then, that supposedly only happens when you're already turning prediabetic (type 2). When that happens your liver is blocked by insulin from unlocking the glycogen stores (that requires glucagon, its antagonist hormone), and your cells cannot turn to fatty acids for energy because the lipolysis is blocked by insulin too, thus you feel the hunger and fatigue. Remove the high-insulin response, and you remove the condition that triggers low blood glucose: that's why healthy people who fast don't have hypoglycemia.

What could posible go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993777)

Shame CmdrTaco isn't still with us (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993793)

That sex machine could have powered his own data center.

What, no virii? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39993935)

Where are all the idiots who kept writing "virii"?

Have they all pissed off to Digg or what?

Re:What, no virii? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39997803)

Actually, "virus" is a Latin word, and "viri" is the plural ... so "virii" is still better to say than "viruses" (which makes people cringe that know Latin). BTW, I just saw that there's an error in the Wiktionary entry for the word. "virus" DOES have a plural. Take that f**king ignorants! ;-)

Why this is better than existing piezo (5, Informative)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993959)

That question sadly went unanswered in the summary, but is discussed in the article. The viruses are preferable because making existing piezoelectrics is apparently difficult and requires toxic chemicals, while these viruses are self-replicating bacteriophages. They are also under the right conditions self-organizing, making the creation of piezo film easy by comparison. Looks like there's a long way to go to get a decent amount of electricity out of them, though.

Re:Why this is better than existing piezo (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994439)

Yea it's damn tought to make a piezo generator w/o toxic compounds. All that's required is a quartz crystal and conductive pickups as we've done for years (computer timing circuits/clocks anyone?) and NO I didn't RTFA but it sounds like there's lots of bias about Piezo generators.

Re:Why this is better than existing piezo (1)

FiloEleven (602040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40000809)

I wondered a bit about that myself, but my intent was only to report what was missing from the summary. Is quartz used as a generator? I know it's often used as a timing oscillator, but if my understanding is correct it requires a bit of power to do so.

Re:Why this is better than existing piezo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39995487)

'self-organizing' - like they have their own union?

Re:Why this is better than existing piezo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39997825)

Yep, and they're already planning a strike with catchy placards written that say, "Don't tread on me"

-ba dum crash.. don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses..

Re:Why this is better than existing piezo (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 2 years ago | (#39999029)

"Looks like there's a long way to go to get a decent amount of electricity out of them, though."

From what I understand (not much) from the article, the virii are only part of the conversion process--through some biological equivalent of a piezoelectric device. So this still does NOT address the problem that the military encountered with piezoelectric generators built into soldiers footwear, primarily that the soldier him/herself provides the actual energy and that turned out bad for the soldiers. The soldiers wore out faster as every step required more energy of the soldier--calorie calculations simply went up for the soldier at whatever rate the electronics were added to the soldiers gear. Turns out that it is easier to carry batteries then to carry extra food and convert it to usable energy by walking.

Humans are a horrible power source (3, Informative)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#39993985)

We're terrible at powering anything. We have poor motivation, work horrible hours and worst of all: we have freedom of choice.
I doubt we're gonna make ourselves tired just to power our phone, when your phone adapter doesn't even show up on your electricity bill, because it's so insignificant.

It's sad that they always aim at the lowest energy consumer in my household: my puny 1 W phone, instead of my 1000 W laundry machine, my 150 W fridge, my 300 W computer, or the lights in the house, which add up to at least 250 W (yes, I use energy saving lights).

One wind turbine would probably be the equivalent of all of London jumping around on these shoes.

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994039)

And yet, there you sit, probably throwing off 70-90 watts of thermal. Perhaps if you'd just wear the perfectly insulated clothing made of 100% efficient heat to electricity conversion material, all would be well.

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (3, Informative)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994707)

70 Watts of thermal, available at 37 C, and at an ambient temperature of 20 C (room temperature) would give you a whopping 5 W of electric, assuming you achieve maximum Carnot efficiency (which you won't).

100% efficient heat to electricity conversion has a huge potential. In power stations... but not really in clothing.

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39995115)

Dang you and your silly reality-talk! I prefer to live in my cornucopian energy fantasy world.

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39994385)

Yes but they are sooo delicious!

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39994691)

One wind turbine would probably be the equivalent of all of London jumping around on these shoes.

Sssh, don't tell all the busty, eco-friendly girls that. I am counting on them bouncing to Save the Earth.

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (2)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#39995995)

It's sad that they always aim at the lowest energy consumer in my household: my puny 1 W phone, instead of my 1000 W laundry machine, my 150 W fridge, my 300 W computer, or the lights in the house, which add up to at least 250 W (yes, I use energy saving lights).

They're not aiming at the lowest energy consumer. Those low-energy devices are just about the only things that can be powered by human power. During testing for the Gossamer Albatross [wikipedia.org] , Paul MacCready found that a fit athlete could generate a bit more than a third of a horsepower while cycling. About 250-350 Watts. The average fit person is going to be closer to a quarter horsepower. When I was in jr. high, my science teacher had a hand-cranked generator hooked up to a 100 Watt light bulb to demonstrate that even though electricity has no moving parts, it still requires real force to make current flow. It was a *lot* of work to get that bulb to even half the brightness of a 100 W bulb in a socket. The best anyone in my class could manage was about 20 seconds.

And that's if you're deliberately doing nothing but pumping mechanical energy straight into a machine. If you're proposing using a device that siphons (say) 1% of your mechanical energy while doing heavy exercise, you're down to 2 Watts. If all you're doing is walking, then we're talking about a fraction of a Watt. If you have access to or can build the hand-cranked generator + light bulb, I really recommend trying it. It's a very visceral demonstration of how convenient cheap electricity is.

Re:Humans are a horrible power source (1)

jclaes (980059) | more than 2 years ago | (#39998521)

...It's sad that they always aim at the lowest energy consumer in my household: my puny 1 W phone

Wouldn't the purpose be to be able to power your phone while you're far away from a convenient outlet or don't have your adapter handy? Some people do travel, go hiking, walk, enjoy live, ...

I can see where this is headed.... (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994041)

Infect humans with virus.
Place humans in a sustainability tube filled with goo, hook up wires and feeding tubes.
generate electricity to power the robot society after the uprising.

Yeah, I don't see this as a good idea.

Re:I can see where this is headed.... (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994199)

OR, lighting from the fingertips like Johnny in that 1980s show I can't recall the name of!

Specially Troll (2)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994479)

Please remove "specially" from the phrase "specially engineered viruses". We all understand that engineered viruses are very special.

"Specially": it's not just redundant, it has a self-congratulatory tone I find annoying.

Sincerely, the Specially Troll

Re:Specially Troll (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994709)

And now... an NBC Very Special Virus.

NBC Very Special Virus (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994807)

Indeed.

Memo to self: NBC has a self-congratulatory tone I find annoying.

- S.T.

Downfall: anti-virus software (1, Funny)

dcsmith (137996) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994631)

As if [insert your favorite antivirus software here] didn't cause enough inadvertent trouble already by sucking up resources. Now it will be able to just flat-out stop your [portable electronic device] from working at all. Scan, disinfect -> battery dies.

Re:Downfall: anti-virus software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40001117)

Moderated -1 Flamebait??? Wow, you really need to untwist your knickers before you loose something important due to the restricted blood flow.

alternative uses (1)

Ciccio87 (2101982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39994633)

Is it possible to make them pulse like a quartz to obtain a clock signal? Or, at least, to get a piezo-virus ignited cigarette lighter? It would be the ultimate gizmo..

Now we know (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | more than 2 years ago | (#39995181)

How the Zombie Apocalypse starts

Re:Now we know (1)

Teknikal69 (1769274) | more than 2 years ago | (#39995299)

Funny enough I was thinking the same thing.

Re:Now we know (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39997881)

Not just zombies.. electric zombies!

Windows (1)

hjf (703092) | more than 2 years ago | (#39995281)

So does this mean a Windows computer can now be self-powered?

Ass Power (2)

wahini (559380) | more than 2 years ago | (#39996475)

What we need in our modern society is a way of generating power when we are sitting on our ass - not when we are walking! Maybe if we put this in our underwear not our shoes?

Re:Ass Power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39996657)

Wind turbine underwear? Of course if gas can't move an astronaut around in space I doubt it'd be able to spin many turbines.

Harmless Virius? Phoenix disease! (1)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39996507)

That's what the scientists thought in the "Blackjack 21" anime. They created a virius that could produce electricity to run an artifical heart. They ended up creating the incurable Phoenix disease. Dr. Blackjack found the cure just in time.

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