Scientific breakthroughs often come from unlikely sources, and a recent discovery has proved to be no exception. Who would have imagined a connection between moldy bread and ‘greener’ electrical batteries?
As odd as it may sound, scientists have found a way to use the fungus found in common bread mold to generate materials that produce electricity, and the discovery may pave the way to manufacturing batteries in a more environmentally sustainable fashion.
The fungus, called Neurospora crassa, has the ability to transform manganese into materials that can be used in making electrochemical battery components.
From the UK’s Daily Mail:
“A team in Dundee has been developing bread moulds to transform materials, with previous research showing the fungi could be used to convert toxic lead and uranium into more stable materials.
“In their latest study, the researchers converted manganese into minerals ideal for use in lithium-ion batteries and capacitors, which store electric charge in a chemical form.
“‘We have made electrochemically active materials using a fungal manganese bio-mineralisation process,’ said Professor Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee, who led the research.
“Gadd’s team incubated N. crassa with manganese chloride and urea, a natural waste product, and found that the long filaments grown by the fungus became covered by minerals.”
When heated, the treated fungus produces manganese oxides and carbon biomass – both of which are ideally suited for use in manufacturing battery electrodes and capacitors.
“The electrochemical properties of the carbonized fungal biomass-mineral composite were tested in a supercapacitor and a lithium-ion battery, and it [the composite] was found to have excellent electrochemical properties,” said professor Gadd.
There has been other research conducted in an effort to find ways to improve the performance of these types of batteries and capacitors, but the Dundee researchers believe that they may now have found the key to more sustainable battery production.
Potential for home-generated sustainable energy
Professor Gadd envisions a future in which this process could be used to generate energy at home using moldy bread:
“A lot of people make their own wine and beer for example, and there’s not much difference. In theory, people could do this kind of thing at home if they wanted to.”
Paul Graham, chief economist with the CSIRO, predicts that more “quirky” innovations will soon emerge that may be applied in the home energy sector.
“I think we’ll see a lot of activity in this space. What’s driving that of course is we’ve had quite an increase in electricity prices and with solar coming along, it’s got a lot of people thinking about what can they do themselves?
“I think there were just a lot of people who wanted to move to green power because the government might have been dragging its feet, then there’s a whole group of people who just want to save money on their bills as power prices go up.
“And I think we’ve also just got a group of customers who are the fast adapters, who just like to get involved in new technology.
“So I think there’s a lot of different motivations, but it’s all helping to drive down the cost of this stuff for the average person.”
Inexpensive self-sustainable energy production at home is becoming a reality. As small-scale green energy production and battery storage systems continue becoming cheaper and more efficient, we may soon be able to produce and store all the energy needed to run our homes.
Of course, this is not good news for power companies and those who wish to maintain centralized control over energy production and consumption.
It will be interesting to see what happens when home energy production becomes cheaper and more practical than staying plugged into the grid – and we may not have to wait too much longer to find out.