Current battery technology presents big environmental and sustainability challenges for the future. However, a team of engineers at the University of California, Riverside, claim to have hit upon a solution. Their mobile power source of the future is fueled by portabella mushrooms.
According to the team’s findings, published in a paper, “Bio-Derived, Binderless, Hierarchically Porous Carbon Anodes for Li-ion Batteries,” mushrooms are ideal as a battery substrate because “they are highly porous, meaning they have a lot of small spaces for liquid or air to pass through. That porosity is important for batteries because it creates more space for the storage and transfer of energy, a critical component to improving battery performance. In addition, the high potassium salt concentration in mushrooms allows for increased electrolyte-active material over time by activating more pores, gradually increasing its capacity.”
According to Brennan Campbell, a graduate student in the Materials Science and Engineering program at UC Riverside, “with battery materials like this, future cell phones may see an increase in run time after many uses, rather than a decrease, due to apparent activation of blind pores within the carbon architectures as the cell charges and discharges over time.” The mushrooms can be grown cheaply in bulk to replace the synthetic graphite currently used in Li-ion batteries, “which comes with a high cost of manufacturing because it requires tedious purification and preparation processes that are also harmful to the environment,” the report continues. “With the anticipated increase in batteries needed for electric vehicles and electronics, a cheaper and sustainable source to replace graphite is needed.”
The report notes that “nearly 900,000 tons of natural raw graphite would be needed for anode fabrication for nearly six million electric vehicle forecast to be built by 2020.” Instead, we can look forward to fields – or rather, cellars – of mushrooms growing for our mobile future.
The mushroom plan is not the only contending breakthrough battery technology out there. Ferrophosphate is another, and meanwhile the same UC Riverside team recently developed a solution based on silicon from sand as a graphite substitute in anodes. However, the elegance, carbon-friendliness, and potential for endless shroom jokes, mean that I’m … ahem … rooting for the magic mushrooms.