What do portobello mushrooms have to do with better batteries? Everything.
This is not just a portobello mushroom.
It's much more than a burger patty replacement, humble pasta ingredient, or house for Smurfs and/or pixies.
No. This is the noble fungus that just might fuel the world, starting with your cellphone.
First, it's important to know that cellphones, laptops, and electric cars all run on lithium-ion batteries.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in consumer electronics because they're smaller and lighter than traditional batteries and discharge less power when not in use.
The trouble is, the anode, or negative side of the battery, is made with graphite, which requires an expensive purification and preparation process using hydrofluoric and sulfuric acids that creates a lot of waste.
But scientists at the University of California Riverside have discovered a cheaper, cleaner way to make Li-ion batteries using — you guessed it — portobello mushrooms.
Yes, this un-presuming fungus just got a major promotion from dinner ... to incredible battery ingredient.
Portobello mushrooms are especially porous, meaning they have lots of nooks and crannies for air and liquid to move freely. Batteries also need lots of room to store and transfer energy, so the mushroom is a great fit.
To prepare the mushrooms to be used as batteries, the researchers heat-treated pieces of the mushroom, which turned them into incredibly porous carbon nanoribbon.
And unlike graphite, which can degrade or erode over time, mushrooms have a high concentration of potassium salt, which means new pores will be created, and the battery's capacity will improve with time.
It's the perfect anode for a battery and a major step up from life on a veggie burger for the mushroom.
The study was conducted by engineering professors Dr. Cengiz Ozkan and Dr. Mihri Ozkan and a small team of graduate students.
The Ozkans, partners in work and life, have been studying alternative material for Li-ion batteries for eight years. They noticed computer performance and data storage improved exponentially every year but that battery capacity didn't improve at a similar rate.
Last year, they authored a paper about a battery anode made from beach sand. And this year, it's mushrooms.
What's next for these engineers? They're exploring patent protection on their work and hope to build batteries for an electric vehicle manufacturer.
"Current technology utilized for making graphitic anodes are creating serious environmental issues mainly in China who is the main ... supplier of graphite for batteries used today in electric vehicles," Mihri Ozkan told Upworthy. "Our 'green' approach can help with these serious environmental issues today."
With more Li-ion batteries in use than ever before, an alternative to graphite can't come soon enough.
Demand for tablets is not slowing down. And the public is clamoring for more electric cars. China alone is pushing to have 5 million on the road by 2020.
An eco-friendly, affordable solution like these mushroom anodes could put more emerging technologies and electronic vehicles within reach while protecting our environment from hazardous waste.
It's a big task, but the mushroom is ready.
This is the moment its been waiting for.