Dstl Bio Battery research

DNA-based bio-batteries make powerful progress in lab tests

Image credit: Dstl

Government researchers are working on a completely new kind of battery based on DNA technology that could be “potentially game-changing” for both military and civilian applications.

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) scientists are working on the bio batteries in a collaborative project with Touchlight Genetics, the Office of Naval Research Global (ONRG) from the US Department of Defense, and the University of Utah.

Dstl’s synthetic biology lead Petra Oyston explained: “The current battery technology that our soldiers are using is containing a lot of energy in chemical format, and if that battery gets shot, for example, it’s going to explode and burst into flames.

“Our bio-battery is made out of DNA, enzymes, lactate and water. If you shot it, it would just go splat, so there’s a significant safety benefit.”

The concept behind the batteries is to degrade a naturally occurring product such as lactate, using enzymes bound to a DNA structural scaffold. The cascade process releases electrons, which are then captured and can be used as power.

Lactate is an organic molecule produced by human and animal cells.

Touchlight Genetics head of platforms Tom Adie added that the battery components are contained in a hydrogel that can be dried down. “You have an incredibly energy-dense battery that can be carried very portably. It’s very light and you can reconstitute it anywhere: seawater, freshwater. So you can carry it on ships; you can carry it in disaster areas.”

The project started in 2017 and is being funded by Dstl and ONRG. Touchlight Genetics is undertaking the work to produce the DNA at scale while the University of Utah is working on the enzyme optimisation and cascade evolution.

ONRG chief scientist Patrick Rose commented: “For defence our warfighters continue to carry more and more electronics that require the power and that means carrying batteries with them. These batteries might provide a solution, a greener solution to generating power. It feels absolutely fantastic to be involved in these types of projects. The impact for defence as well as for society at large will be multi-fold.”

For the future, Oyston says the idea is very scalable. “We can think about going from large batteries to teeny-tiny little batteries that we wouldn’t even be able to see. Maybe we have a unique format of batteries so it’s a coating instead of an actual unit that you’re used to seeing.

As for the present: “We showed it worked. We can get electricity out of a biological system, we can capture it, we can measure it,” she concluded. “It’s going amazingly well.”

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