A team of researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey have created a “bionic mushroom” that can produce electricity without using fossil fuels. The mushroom is covered in cyanobacteria, tiny organisms found across the globe that turn sunlight into electrical current.
Scientists have long wondered whether cyanobacteria could be harnessed as an alternative energy source, the major hurdle being that the organisms can’t survive on artificial surfaces. Mechanical engineers Manu Mannoor and Sudeep Joshi of the Stevens Institute realized that mushrooms, however, already host several other forms of microbial life, and could therefore provide the right environment — nutrients, moisture, pH, and temperature — for cyanobacteria to thrive.
The engineers attached 3D-printed clusters of cyanobacteria and graphene nanoribbons, which collect the electrical current, onto the caps of white button mushrooms bought at a grocery store. Several cyanobacteria-covered mushrooms wired together generated enough electricity to light up a small lamp, the BBC reported. The scientists published their findings in the journal Nano Letters.
“Right now we are using cyanobacteria from the pond, but you can genetically engineer them… to produce higher photo currents,” Joshi told the BBC. “It’s a new start; we call it engineered symbiosis. If we do more research in this we can really push this field forward to have some type of effective green technology.”