Researchers Use 3D Printing To Create Bionic Mushroom That Generates Electricity

Rhodilee Jean Dolor

Researchers have created a bionic mushroom that may one day help light up our homes.

In a new study published in the journal Nano Letters on Wednesday, researchers reported how they created a mushroom that can produce its own electricity. Study researcher Manu Mannoor, from the Stevens Institute of Technology, and colleagues created the electricity-generating mushrooms by integrating cyanobacteria capable of producing electricity with nanoscale materials that can collect the current.

Like plants, cyanobacteria, bacteria with blue-green color, can create their own energy through photosynthesis. The researchers said that the microbes are known in the bioengineering community as capable of creating electricity. Unfortunately, cyanobacteria do not last long because the artificial surfaces that are used to host them cannot keep the bacteria thriving long enough. In the new study, the researchers reported that they found properties within the mushroom that allow the bacteria to survive longer while generating electricity.

Mannoor and colleagues used a 3D printer to create two types of electronic ink patterns. One contains the bacteria and the other contains graphene nanoribbons for collecting the current. These patterns were then placed on the mushroom's cap. Mannoor explained to USA Today that they integrated the microbes and the mushroom in a manner that allowed the cyanobacteria to produce energy by photosynthesis while the mushroom provides it the suitable shelter to do so.

Mannoor said that this shelter features moisture and other biophysiological conditions that are suitable to help the bacteria to thrive longer. The geometry of the mushroom's head also provides for ample sunlight.

Researchers shone light on the mushroom to spur photosynthesis in the bacteria and start the photocurrent. The mushroom was able to produce a current of about 65 nanoAmps. This may not be strong enough to power a device, but the researchers said that using several of these mushrooms could build up enough electrical current to light an LED.

According to a statement from the Stevens Institute of Technology, the work could pave way for a non-traditional way to combat climate change. The researchers also think that the cyanobacteria holds potential in powering other applications. "With this work, we can imagine enormous opportunities for next-generation bio-hybrid applications," Mannoor said. "For example, some bacteria can glow, while others sense toxins or produce fuel. By seamlessly integrating these microbes with nanomaterials, we could potentially realize many other amazing designer bio-hybrids for the environment, defense, healthcare, and many other fields."