Researchers at Oxford University in the UK, have identified a mushroom enzyme called “laccase” that could replace platinum and other precious metals in fuel cells. The fungi fuel cell would be more efficient than traditional metal catalyst FC’s in speeding up the chemical reactions.
Laccase typically comes from mushrooms on the ground or found on rotting wood, but the fungi could be harvested in higher yields for commercial purposes as well. The are cheap and abundant and a very effective in getting hydrogen and oxygen to react with one another.
Enzyme coated electrodes could be used to replace both platinum in fuel cells and zinc in batteries, which some experts estimate will run out worldwide by 2037. The first attempts at the mushroom fuel cell will be towards developing a device that will work in the small portable electronics marketplace.
If successful, perhaps the researchers will also be able to scale up their endeavors to the automotive marketplace as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Oxford University developing biofuel cells.
In March, 2007, I talked about how the researchers there were using a very old life form, R. metallidurans hydrogenase to replace platinum in fuel cells. I also mentioned some similar research in September 2006 as well.
With the quest for cheap fuel cells that require no platinum or other expensive metals ever present, it is heartening to see alternatives being developed that are inexpensive, easily found and have potential market viability.