Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How proteins can charge your cell phone in 30 seconds

Early this week, a small Israeli company called StoreDot demonstrated a small piece of technology that has captured the attention of the mobile-technology addicted west. Using nothing more than peptide amino acids, the same proteins at the center of questionable athletic supplement programs, they used a mobile prototype to completely charge a Samsung Galaxy S4 in about 30 seconds. Sounds fantastic! Soon, no-one will have to worry about their phone or laptop running out of charge, potentially cutting them off from their work, social life, and the world. But how did they get here?

The Storedot biological semiconductor battery prototype attached to a Samsung Galaxy S4

In 2010 researchers Charlotte Hauser and Shuhuang Zhang published "Peptides as Biological Semiconductors" in the journal Nature. This research realized, for the first time, that peptide proteins could be used as semiconductors in order to act as a battery. This would be done by allowing peptides to form nanodots, the energy storage component of batteries. Building off of this, StoreDot and its CEO, Dr Doron Myersdorf developed this technology in a miniaturized form. Their prototype, demonstrated at the Think Next symposium in Tel Aviv on Monday, is about the size of two cigarette packs. The rapid charging ability is due to the use of these peptides, which are able to charge more quickly and reliably than traditional batteries, such as lithium and silicon batteries. Peptides form much more regular nanodots than inorganic material, and therefore are more efficient and last longer. Moreover, they are cheap and easy to produce - while inorganic batteries need to be produced using chemicals and lots of heat, these amino-acid chains can be produced at room temperature using water. While a functional prototype is still a year away, and consumer versions are at least three years from production, this technology has the potential to vastly increase the battery life of our electronic devices. This impact also stretches beyond technology to our impact on the environment.

Many environmental activists despair over the behavior of the general public. While most people profess a desire to be environmentally sustainable, the public has consistently chosen options that improve their quality of life, even at the expense of the environment. This shortsightedness is reflected clearly in this story below.


However, Myersdorf and StoreDot have been able to bridge this gap. By producing a prototype biological battery, there is now the potential to eliminate conventional lithium batteries, which are damaging to the environment in both their production and disposal. This is possible because these new batteries are far more efficient and powerful than conventional batteries. By ensuring that their environmentally friendly product is better than the alternative, Myersdorf and StoreDot have eliminated the conflict between personal gain and environmental protection. This exemplifies Collins and Amabile's explanation of Freud, where creativity channels energy into more socially-acceptable directions by resolving conflicts. By resolving the conflict between the environment and personal gain, the product has solved the conflict and channeled the energy of consumers into the socially-acceptable direction of saving the environment. Talk about a win-win.

1 comment:

  1. This is quite the development. However, from an environmentalist standpoint, I have two thoughts. First, the biggest problem with batteries is how to dispose of them, and if we cannot find responsible ways to dispose of these, then there is no use introducing another product into the market that will just clog landfills.

    Second, peptides break down much faster than many of the chemicals used in batteries today. Scientists would have to find a way to stabilize the amino acids and make sure they can withstand multiple charges. Because as I see it, though they might be cheap and easy to make, it is not sustainable to have to get a new battery every few days. It would be better to have a rechargeable battery that lasts many years and can be disposed of properly.

    With that said though, this is an incredibly creative technology. Looking to naturally occurring chemicals and processes in nature and using those, instead of a synthetic one, is great. It is using nature as inspiration, looking to the vast and beautiful world to solve problems instead of trying ones that may make matters worse.


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