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Portobello mushrooms could power your future phone

Engineers at the University of California at Riverside explore how batteries made with mushrooms could be cheaper to make and less prone to degrading over time.

Apple and Google just announced new tablets and smartphones touting the latest technological advances, but one thing those devices can't brag is a battery made with portobello mushrooms. According to new research from engineers at the University of California at Riverside, however, future gadgets might.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports on Tuesday, researchers from the university's Bourns College of Engineering describe how they created a new type of high-carbon lithium ion battery component using heat-treated nanoribbons from the skins of portobello mushrooms.

They did that in an attempt to replace synthetic graphite as the current industry standard for anodes, or positive terminals. Synthetic graphite has a high manufacturing cost because it requires significant chemical preparation and activation, researcher Mihri Ozkan told UCR Today. Moreover, the preparation process uses a series of acids and bases that are harmful to the environment, so researchers from a number of institutions are searching for alternatives that are inexpensive, easy to produce and environmentally friendly.

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Could portobello mushrooms make lithium ion batteries better? Beau Lark/Corbis

Portobello mushrooms are an ideal candidate to replace synthetic graphite for a multitude of reasons, the researchers say. The mushrooms become just the right kind of porous when heated to about 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit), giving them much more space for liquid and air to pass through. This heat-treatment creates more room for the storage and transfer of energy and, theoretically, better batteries.

Perhaps more importantly, portobello mushrooms are high in potassium salt, which makes the pores more accessible to the electrolytes in the battery with each charge and discharge cycle, which could actually increase the battery's capacity over time. So instead of a battery that degrades with each cycle and requires more frequent recharges, mushroom batteries might actually get better with age.

Mushroom lithium ion batteries aren't going to replace traditional batteries anytime soon, as the researchers say the technology needs more optimization before such biological anodes can replace the standard synthetic graphite ones. But the paper shows that batteries made out of organic biological materials that are cheap, environmentally friendly and easy to produce are feasible.

You can learn more about the team's research by reading the article in full on the journal Nature Scientific Reports' online site here. Now, all we need are some batteries made out of olives and green peppers and we'll have one truly powerful pizza combination.