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Bread mold could help build better rechargeable battery: study

Xinhua, March 18, 2016 Adjust font size:

A fungus that turns bread moldy could potentially play a big role in producing sustainable electrochemical materials for use in rechargeable batteries, British and Chinese researchers said Thursday.

The researchers reported in the U.S. journal Current Biology that the fungus Neurospora crassa, commonly known as red bread mold, can transform manganese into a mineral composite with favorable electrochemical properties.

"This is the first demonstration of the synthesis of active electrode materials using a fungal biomineralization process," said Geoffrey Gadd of the University of Dundee, who led the study.

"(It) illustrates the great potential of these fungal processes as a source of useful biomaterials," said Gadd, also affiliated with Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In earlier studies, the researchers showed that fungi could serve as an efficient system for the biomineralization and production of a variety of metal carbonates, including those of toxic metals, which can be easily decomposed into metal oxides through thermal treatment.

In the new study, Gadd's team incubated Neurospora crassa in media amended with urea and manganese chloride and then heated the resulting materials to obtain a mixture of carbonized biomass and manganese oxides.

"We were surprised that the prepared biomass-manganese oxide composite performed so well," said Gadd.

In comparison to other reported manganese oxides in lithium-ion batteries, the carbonized fungal biomass-mineral composite "showed an excellent cycling stability and more than 90 percent capacity was retained after 200 cycles," he said.

"This system therefore suggests a novel biotechnological method for the preparation of sustainable electrochemical materials."

Many efforts have been made to improve lithium-ion battery or supercapacitor performance using alternative electrode materials such as carbon nanotubes and other manganese oxides. But few had considered a role for fungi in the manufacturing process.

Gadd said they'll continue to explore the use of fungi in producing various potentially useful metal carbonates. They're also interested in investigating such processes for the biorecovery of valuable or scarce metal elements in other chemical forms.

The study was funded by the China Scholarship Council and the 1000 Talents Plan with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography. Enditem