Why bread mold could lead to better smartphone batteries

Fungi and consumer electronics together at last

As far as future smartphones go, better battery life must be pretty high on most people's wish lists, as rapid advancements in processor and display tech mean we're still only getting about a day or so out of our devices between charges. Now there's new hope for improved battery technology from an usual source: bread mold.

Researchers working at the University of Dundee in Scotland have found a link between a type of bread mold and the creation of more sustainable electrochemical materials - in other words, batteries that last longer... perhaps. The special fungi-based composite prepared by the team has "excellent electrochemical properties" according to Geoffrey Gadd, one of the scientists involved.

Brace yourself for some science. The lithium-ion batteries inside your phones and tablets are made up of three main components: the electrolyte providing electrons, an anode to discharge them, and a cathode to receive them. Most battery research is concerned with looking at alternative materials for these three components, materials that will work better than the existing compounds without blowing up your precious mobile.

Power to the people

What Geoffrey Gadd and his team in Dundee have discovered is that a type of fungus found in bread mold could be a suitable substitute for part of the chemical mix inside a lithium-ion battery. Tests also showed that the new compound mix was able to retain a large part of its charge after several cycles.

It's a long, long way from the laboratory to a smartphone production line - which is why you'll often hear about magical battery technology breakthroughs that then disappear without a trace - but sooner or later someone is going to happen upon a new material mix that's efficient, cheap and safe enough to be used in consumer devices.

And it just might involve a bread mold fungus, says the report now published in the journal Current Biology. Gadd and his team are now set to continue their research to see if certain types of fungi can be adapted to keep our electronics running for longer.