The Future of Batteries is a Far-Out Trip, Man

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Besides making steaks seem fancy and sending rebellious teens to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, it turns out mushrooms have another use.

Fibers from a type of wild mushroom outperformed graphite anodes on lithium-ion batteries, Wards Auto reports, a finding that surprised researchers at Purdue University.

As electric cars slowly proliferate, the knowledge could revolutionize the future of high-capacity batteries.

Unlike the mushrooms preferred by your ziplock bag-wielding friend, the Tyromyces fissilis needs to be modified before it can be useful. The dense fibers can be turned into pure carbon via high temperatures and argon gas, and used to ferry electrons into (or out of) a battery via its terminals.

Faster electron transfer means faster recharging times.

“Current state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries must be improved in both energy density and power output to meet the future energy storage demand in electric vehicles and grid energy-storage technologies,” Vilas Pol, an associate professor at Purdue, told Wards Auto. “So there is a dire need to develop new anode materials with superior performance.”

By adding cobalt oxide particles to the carbonized ‘shroom fibers, the material has a capacity of 530 milliamp hours per gram, or 1.5 times greater than the graphite normally used in battery anodes.

The discovery was made by a doctoral student who noticed a mushroom growing on an old stump and decided to take a closer look. See, this is why scientists need access to kitchens and backyards.

[Image: Iain Farrell/ Flickr ( CC BY-ND 2.0)

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Nickoo Nickoo on Apr 21, 2016

    Old news.

  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Apr 21, 2016

    The mushroom pictured, amanita muscaria, known as the "fly agaric", is used by Mongolian shamans to enter trance states. I wrote a thesis on hallucinogenic drug rituals and nothing I've read leads me to believe that amanita is anything like an enjoyable recreational drug, nor is it widely used as such. The active ingredient, muscimol, inhibits the neurotransmitter GABA. Now psilocybin mushrooms, on the other hand, those are a different story. The active ingredients, psilocybin and psilocin, are indole amines, related to DMT and part of the same general family as LSD and Mescaline, but usually not as intense an experience. It's a drug that probably should be in the legal pharmacopia. In low dosages it might work as well as an anti-depressant as SSRIs do. Psilocybin mushrooms are widely cultivated and ingested for recreational purposes.

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    • TrailerTrash TrailerTrash on Apr 22, 2016 bring me back a kitchen at a party way, way back in 1972. thanks.

  • Conslaw Conslaw on Apr 21, 2016

    Kudos to the researchers at my alma mater, Purdue University. I understand that researchers in Purdue's animal sciences department also made a breakthrough. After many hundreds of hours experimenting with sheep, they came up with a new use for sheep that they never thought of before. Wool.

    • Stuki Stuki on Apr 21, 2016

      All the while up until the "Wool" punchline, I was sure you were going to Say No More.....

  • TrailerTrash TrailerTrash on Apr 22, 2016

    Ummmm....excuse me here folks. But shouldn't the DISPOSAL of these planet saving batteries be examined? In all these eco-greenie Tesla planet saving seems the long term issue with battery tech in never addressed. So not only do we gloss over the fact the electricity is made in ways the Earth is damaged, so is the way it is stored. THis is professional malpractice and bias on the part of the media today. And this includes the so called car professional reviewers. This is all going to be laughed at, and likely scorned in the years to come. This is gonna look and sound like 1950 sci-fi movie plots.

    • Heavy handle Heavy handle on Apr 22, 2016

      I know I've read many claims that automotive lithium batteries are recyclable, and are being recycled. Are you saying this isn't true?