In the nano level, Kapok’s tube fibers seem to be a rising star in the Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) or biological fuel cell world. What MFCs aim to do is find an alternative energy source using bacteria to convert organic matter into electric currents.
This process is being researched for its potential in turning wastewater treatment plants to power plants.
In a simplified story: Imagine a battery. There’s an anode electrode(-) and cathode electrode (+) and the electrolytes. In this case, the bacteria and organic matter swimming in the soup of wastewater. Add a wire between the (+) and the( -) results to a closed circuit. As the bacteria breaks down the waste in the water, electrons are released and as it flows through the wire, it lights up the bulb (electricity!)
So what does Kapok have to do with this?
This is one of the times when it pays to be empty and hollow.
While most fibers are dense and compact, Kapok fiber is structured like a mini tube, with a large aperture surrounded by very thin walls (only 0.8 – 1.0µm thick). This sets Kapok apart with its weight- saving, highly porous, 3D surface area and a good thermo-regulator.
Kapok fiber’s uniquely hollow strands would make an ideal sustainable electrode for MFCs according to a research published in 2014. With its double walls (inner wall + outer wall = greater surface area), more bacteria could attach gaining more power production.
There are additional undiscovered yet potentially significant properties of kapok, just waiting to be studied as an answer to the needs of the sustainability era.