Fungi grown on rotten wood could one day be harvested and genetically engineered for providing future fuel cells with an alternative to the platinum that they nowadays have inside, playing the role of a catalyst.
The mushroom enzyme, called Lacasse, extracted from Trametes Versicolor, has been proven to have the same catalytic effect as platinum in a hydrogen fuel cell. The chemists from Oxford believe that everyday polluting batteries will one day have their electrodes covered with the lacasse enzyme. All the hard work is being done by Christopher Blanford, chemist at Oxford.
Around 3 billion batteries are used every year in western countries, which turn into a mountain of 200,000 tonnes of unrecycled waste in the UK, Canada and the US alone. Even the world’s supply of one of the crucial ingredients in normal batteries, zinc, is due to run out in 2037 according to the British Geological Survey. And, although countries such as the UK may have no domestic source of zinc and platinum, there are plenty of plants that can be grown to produce laccase.
Blanford’s first goal is to produce a fuel cell that works as well as a rechargeable battery, producing about 400 milliamps for around 2,500 hours. This is enough for a portable music player but, in future, he intends to produce mobile-phone sized batteries or fuel cells in the standard AA shape, all using mass-produced enzymes harvested from genetically modified fungi. He says that a single re-fuelling of an enzyme-based fuel cell would last the equivalent of 20 re-charges of a modern battery. Even Greenpeace chief scientist, Doug Parr, welcomed the idea.
If further improved versions of this battery, with genetically engineered fungi could be produced, we would have hydrogen fuel cells as cheap as almost nothing, compared to the benefits, and we would use our energy much more efficiently than we do today.