Climate change: the "bionic fungus" covered by bugs generates clean energy

MushroomAuthor's image
American Chemical Society

Image caption

A pulsating fungus covered with insects and nanowires can produce electricity from light

US researchers have successfully tested the rather bizarre idea of ​​producing electricity from a fungus covered with bacteria.

Scientists used 3D printing to connect the cluster of bugs that produce energy to the cap of a pulsating mushroom.

The fungus provided the ideal environment to allow cyanobacteria to generate a small amount of energy.

The authors state that their fossil "fossil fungus" could have great potential.

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As researchers around the world looking for alternative energy sources, there was a sharp increase in interest for cyanobacteria.

These organisms, widely found in the oceans and on earth, have been studied for their ability to transform sunlight into electricity.

A big problem is that they do not survive long enough on artificial surfaces to be able to maintain their potential for power.

This is where the humble button comes into play.

Author's image
Sudeep Joshi

Image caption

Cyanobacteria show great potential in transforming light into energy

This fertile mushroom is already home to many other forms of bacterial life, providing an attractive range of nutrients, moisture and temperature.

So the scientists at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the United States have developed an intelligent method to marry the mushroom with sparkling insects.

In a fairly appropriate way, they had the idea while they were having lunch!

"One day my friends and I went for lunch together and we ordered some mushrooms," said Sudeep Joshi, a postdoctoral researcher and author of the study.

"While we were discussing them, we realized we had a rich microbiota, so we thought why not using mushrooms as a support for cyaobacteria, we thought we could combine them and see what happens".

Using a special bio-ink, the team printed the bacteria on the spiral mushroom cap. Previously they had used an electronic ink to incorporate graphene nano-tapes on the surface of the mushroom to collect the current.

When they lit a light on this magic mushroom, it caused the cyanobacteria to generate a small amount of electricity.

It is not a lightbulb enough time but proof that the idea works. Researchers say that many mushrooms connected together could light a small lamp.

"We're trying to connect all mushrooms in series, in an array, and we're also trying to put more bacteria together," said Sudeep Joshi.

"These are the next steps, to optimize the bio-currents, to generate more electricity, to power a small LED."

A great advantage for the experiment was the fact that the insects on the fungus lasted several days longer than the cyanobacteria placed on other surfaces.

Researchers believe that the idea could have potential as a renewable energy source.

"Right now we are using cyanobacteria from the pond, but you can genetically engineer them and you can change their molecules to produce higher photographic currents through photosynthesis," said Sudeep Joshi.

"It's a new beginning, we call it symbiosis: if we do more research in this, we can really push this field towards a type of effective green technology."

The transition from fossil fuel to fungal fuel may not be that far.

The study was published in the journal Nano Letters.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

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