What’s your smartphone have in common with mushrooms?
If I were to say something like, portabella mushrooms are the first bio-derived, binderless, hierarchically porous carbon anodes for li-ion batteries… you’d probably say, what the hell is that? (Okay, I’m ALSO saying that but I did a little digging and found out what’s really going on.)
Graphite + li-ion batteries
Every time you scroll Facebook on your phone you’re using energy stored inside of a lithium-ion battery. Li-ion batteries are rechargeable which is why home electronics like computers, tablets, and Bluetooth devices use them. They are also the cornerstone of the booming electric car industry.
Right now lithium-ion anodes are made out of synthetic graphite for energy storage which is expensive, not sustainable and leaves a trail of toxic waste in its wake. Plus, batteries these days drain super quick because we have a lot of apps running all the time and graphite anodes can only do so much.
“Current state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries must be improved in both energy density and power output in order to meet the future energy storage demand in electric vehicles and grid energy-storage technologies,” said Vilas Pol, an associate professor in the School of Chemical Engineering.
The environmental impact from graphite usage and mining is already pretty bad, but things are likely to get worse when Tesla opens their battery producing behemoth, Gigafactory, in 2017. Gigafactory will be the second largest building in the world and is slated to produce double the output of electric vehicles we have today. Analysts predict that by 2020 over 900,000 tons of raw graphite will be used for electric vehicle batteries alone.
So naturally, as there is an increasing interest in battery-powered everything, there’s an increasing interest to seek out safer, cheaper, longer-lasting and environmentally friendly alternatives to graphite. Cue stage right: mushrooms.
At the University of California’s Bourns College of Engineering, researchers discovered a way to create a lithium-ion anode from the skin of portabella mushrooms.
Under high-heat portabellas become porous which creates the perfect environment for air and water exchange — effectively increasing the energy storage capacity and overall performance of a battery. And, because portabellas are high in potassium salt (which gives the pores more accessibility to the electrolytes during each charge-up and discharge cycle), researchers are finding that mushroom batteries may actually improve with time instead of actively degrading with time.
Which would be great because as I type this I’m bound to my laptop charger since my battery permanently bit the dust… again.
Brennan Campbell a graduate student in the college of engineering at Riverside reiterates that “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.”
At Purdue University, researchers used a type of wild polypore mushroom known as Tyromyces fissilis (preferred name Aurantiporus fissilis) to produce similar results to that of the portabella anode. Carbon fibers from the Tyromyces fissilis mushroom were modified with nanoparticles to increase the stable capacity by 1.5x that of graphites capacity. Layman’s speak: longer more efficient batteries for our gadgets.
A naturally-derived anode gives hope to a very demanding industry and provides us with a sustainable, biodegradable, safer, longer-lasting and cheaper source of energy for our techy side-kicks.
Of course, the replacement of synthetic anodes with biological ones isn’t going to happen overnight but, we can remain hopeful that the science will soon be optimized and mushroom anodes will be introduced as one of the new industry standards.
Mushroom batteries for the win.
What do you think about mushrooms replacing graphite? Comment below to join the conversation.