Researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey have come up with an unexpected way to generate electricity without fossil fuels: a fungus that's covered in bacteria. The "bionic mushroom" was announced in the magazine Nano Letters and has thrilled the public due to its crazy creativity.
Bacteria have been of interest to energy researchers for years as they can produce oxygen, process oil spills, and generate electricity. However, it has proven difficult to work with the cyanobacteria in question because they can not survive long enough on artificial surfaces to be useful for energy production. The breakthrough came when scientists considered using a common button fungus, such as the one found in the supermarket, as a surface for the bacteria. Mushrooms naturally have an ecosystem of bacteria, making them the perfect home for the development of cyanobacteria.
The basis for the fungal generator is the observation that bacteria and fungi often live in a symbiosis, in which both life forms benefit each other. With the advancement of 3D printing technology, it is now possible to produce tiny materials that interact on a microscopic scale. This means that bacterial cells can be attached to the fungus with a network of 3D printed nanoribbons spirally placed over the mushroom cap. The combination of bacteria and fungi enables a process called "photosynthetic bioelectricity production". This is a fantastic way to say that when researchers emit light on the bacteria, they generate a small amount of electricity.
Since the amount of electricity generated is small, a whole series of mushrooms would be required to be effective on a practical scale. If several mushrooms are connected together, enough power could be generated to light a small lamp. The researcher Dr. Sudeep Joshi, a postdoc in the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, told BBC News, "We want to line up all the mushrooms in a row, and we also want to pack more bacteria together … These are the next steps to to optimize the bio-flows, to generate more electricity and to operate a small LED. "