Scientists Can Turn Bricks Into Electricity Storage Devices

A team of researchers has figured out a way to turn bricks into energy storage devices. The converted bricks, the researchers say, could be used to store energy collected by solar panels, and even be assembled like LEGO. The researchers also say they could potentially recharge the modified bricks up to 10,000 times.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Julio D’Arcy at Washington University led the research effort to transform the bricks into energy storage devices. More specifically, D’Arcy and his team figured out a method for turning common bricks’ red pigment into PEDOT. PEDOT, or poly-ethylenedioxythiophene-polystyrene-sulfonate, is a plastic that conducts electricity.

Bricks used as energy sources

Julio M. D’Arcy

“We have created a new brick that can be incorporated into your house that has the functionality of storing electrical energy,” D’Arcy said in a call reported by Vice. “We are thinking that sensing applications is a low-hanging fruit for these bricks,” the professor added.

Unlike batteries, which store chemical energy, D’Arcy’s converted bricks store electrical charge; this means they function as supercapacitors. To achieve this transformation, the team filled the pores in bricks with an acid vapor that dissolved the bricks’ iron oxide. That dissolved iron oxide subsequently turned into a reactive form of iron, which was then combined with a sulfur-based material. The chemical reaction between the iron and sulfur-based material, in turn, left the bricks’ pores coated with PEDOT.

“The resulting film coats the brick surfaces with nanofibers that resemble the fine filaments produced by fungi,” D’Arcy wrote in a summary of the research posted in The Conversation. D’Arcy noted that a few pieces of PEDOT-coated brick are able to power an LED (shown immediately above). For reference, D’Arcy says that 60 regular-sized bricks could power emergency lighting for 50 minutes.

D’Arcy adds in his piece in The Conversation that this research shows how waste can be reused for producing cutting-edge materials. Not only that, but the tech is obviously extremely “green” as well. Along with storing energy collected by solar panels, the bricks could work as roof tiles. They would function as water filtration systems.

Illustration demonstrating how bricks become energy sources

Julio M. D’Arcy

Moving forward, D’Arcy et al. will be looking to scale up the rate of chemical synthesis in the supercapacitor bricks. The aim is to reduce the cost and production time of the PEDOT-coated bricks. Although it seems the biggest current hurdle is the need to increase the bricks’ energy storage capacity tenfold. Without this increase, it seems the bricks are not reasonably efficient.

Those who want to learn more about how D’Arcy and his team turned bricks into supercapacitors can peruse their research in this study recently published in Nature Communications.

Featured Image: Julio M. D’Arcy

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