Science for You: Cooking up new batteries with wild mushrooms

Vilas Pol
Vilas Pol. Photo by Vincent Walter.

3/1/2017 |

A wild mushroom in a researcher’s backyard provided inspiration and feedstock for a new electrode material of an energy storage device that improves battery performance and safety.

It was a fortuitous find by researchers Vilas Pol and Jialiang Tang, who are on a quest to use renewable resources while improving energy storage and were looking for an alternative source for carbon fibers.

The complex and intertwined fibrous structure of the fungus, Tyromyces fissilis, forms a
conductive interconnected network that allows for faster electron transport. That could help
meet the future energy storage demand and power output needed for next-generation
energy-storage technologies.

Pol, a professor of chemical engineering, and doctoral student Tang converted the mushroom’s fibrous structure into carbon microfibers through a solid-state controlled
pyrolysis process. They then modified the microfibers with cobalt oxide nanoparticles
to create battery anodes that outperform conventional graphite electrodes used for
lithium-ion batteries.

“As a research group with a strong emphasis in renewability, we are accustomed to taking
inspiration from nature and utilizing natural products in our energy storage research,”
Tang explains. “We seek to improve battery performance and safety through new electrode
fabrication and battery-cell design. We also hope to bring down the cost of battery
electrodes and to improve their environmental Vilas Pol footprint by using renewable resources.”