Researchers from Stevens Institute of Technology in the US have made an ordinary button bionic mushroom which is capable of producing its own electricity without using fossil fuels.
In the recent work, featured in the journal Nano Letters, the research team supercharged the bionic mushroom with 3D printed clusters of cyanobacteria or Blue-green bacteria and nanowires made of graphene.
According to the researchers, the cyanobacteria can generate electricity by converting sunlight into electrical current, while graphene is a semimetal material that can collect the current. The fungus provided the ideal environment for cyanobacteria to produce small amount of electricity. The study is a part of broader effort to better understand cells biological machinery which will demonstrate the ways to use intricate molecular levers and gears to design advanced technologies and useful systems for healthcare, defense, and the environment.
A scientists around the world are in the search for alternative energy resources, interest in cyanobacteria has been on the rise. Manu Mannoor, one of the researchers, explained that integration of cyanobacteria and graphene nanowires allowed them to access definitive properties of both, expand them, and develop a completely new functional bionic system.
Although the cyanobacteria are found abundantly in the oceans and on land and its ability to generate electricity is well known, they cannot survive for long on artificial bio-compatible surfaces, thus limiting their power-producing potential. That’s where the button bionic mushroom came into use. The fertile fungus, in its natural form, hosts a rich habitat for various forms of bacterial life that could provide an ideal environment for cyanobacteria with an array of moisture, nutrients, temperature and pH, allowing them to generate power for longer period.
The research team explained that when cyanobacteria was placed on the cap of a button mushroom, it lasted several days longer than on a dead mushroom. In the first experiment, they used an electronic ink to embed graphic nanowires on the surface of the mushroom which serves as a current-collecting network. Subsequently, the team used special bio-ink to print the cyanobacteria on the cap of the fungus in a spiral pattern. When a light was shown onto the mushroom, it caused the cyanobacteria to activate photosynthesis, producing a photocurrent.
A big advantage of the experiment was the bacteria was able to survive longer in the state of engineered symbiosis as compared to other surfaces. Further, it was discovered that the amount of electricity produced depend on the alignment and density. It produces more electricity when more densely packed together.
According to the researchers, 3D printing made it possible to bring them together, increasing the power-producing activity to eight-fold more. They believed that it could provide potential opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications.