Forget solar panels. Researchers are eyeing mushrooms to generate electricity.
The electricity-generating mushrooms were fitted with a network of electrodes and special bacteria – which get their energy through photosynthesis – to produce bio-electricity, according to researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The goal of the researchers, led by Steven's Manu Mannoor and Sudeep Joshi, was to create an "artificial symbiosis" between button mushrooms and the photosynthesis-producing bacteria, called cyanobacteria, according to an abstract describing the research provided by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
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"Our paper integrated the cyanobacteria with fungus of a mushroom in a way that the cyanobacteria is able to make the energy by photosynthesis while the mushroom provides it with the suitable 'shelter' to do so," Manu Mannoor, Ph.D., Department of Mechanical Engineering Stevens Institute of Technology, told Fox News in an email.
The basic idea is for the mushrooms to provide shelter, moisture and nutrients, while bacteria that is printed on the mushroom's cap supplies energy by photosynthesis. Nanoribbons capture electrons released by the microbes during photosynthesis, producing the bioelectricity.
According to the abstract, the mushroom was constructed like this: first, the researchers 3-D printed an electronic ink containing graphene nanoribbons onto the cap of a living mushroom. Then, they printed a bio-ink containing cyanobacteria onto the cap, which intersected with the electronic ink. At these intersections, energy-producing electrons could move through the outer membranes of the bacteria to the conductive network of graphene nanoribbons.
"It was...a process by which we could 'seamlessly merge' or integrate three classes of micro/nano materials," Dr. Mannoor said. He described the three as living bacteria, fungi (mushroom) and nanomaterials such as graphene.
Shining a light on the mushroom activated photosynthesis, generating a current of about 65 nanoAmps, the researchers said.
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“Although this current is insufficient to power an electronic device…an array of bionic mushrooms could generate enough current to light up an LED,” according to the abstract.
The goal of the researchers now is to work on ways to generate higher currents.
Dr. Mannoor said two companies have expressed interest though that information was confidential at this stage.
The research results were reported in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.