How to store energy in red bricks with nanotech

Researchers at Washington University in St Louis figured out a way to turn regular bricks into batteries.

A group of scientists from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered a method to convert standard bricks into functional batteries.

They achieved this by infusing the brick's pores with minuscule conductive nanofibers made of plastic, capable of storing electrical charge. Initial tests demonstrated that these modified bricks could effectively power a small LED light, the university said in a statement

Though the energy capacity remains relatively limited—largely due to the bricks functioning as supercapacitors rather than traditional chemical-based batteries—this research opens the door to a future where walls of a building could potentially store energy.

Julio D’Arcy, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications and affiliated with Washington University, underlined the concept's implications in an interview for The Guardian: “A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries.

What we have done is provide a new ‘food-for-thought’ option, but we’re not there yet.”

The bricks of a house could serve as the batteries for energy storage.

Currently, when compared to a lithium-ion battery, the energy brick only achieves a fraction of the energy density. The researchers aim to boost this capacity tenfold by incorporating metal oxides.

Plastic for electrical conductivity

The scientists developed miniature models of the energy bricks through a process involving chemical vapors interacting with the red iron oxides within the bricks. This interaction led to the formation of a network of plastic nanofibers. A special plastic known as Pedot, chosen for its excellent electrical conductivity, was utilized. The outcome of these reactions resulted in a transformation of the red bricks into a deep blue hue.

An additional advantage of supercapacitors is their heightened ability to endure numerous charge and recharge cycles compared to conventional batteries, without a significant decline in their energy storage capacity.

The power bricks exhibited the capability to undergo 10,000 cycles before experiencing noticeable capacity reduction.

Initially, the charge retained within the initial batch of bricks is minimal, posing no risk of electric shock upon contact. However, a sequence of interconnected bricks forming a wall would necessitate an insulating layer. The researchers demonstrated the achievement of this insulating layer using epoxy resin, which even enabled the bricks to function underwater.

While the reactions employed to craft the power bricks might marginally affect their structural attributes, it's important to note that bricks are predominantly utilized in contemporary construction as decorative facades.

Should - albeit this remains a significant uncertainty - the energy density eventually approach that of lithium-ion batteries, the implications could be revolutionary.

According to D'Arcy, it could usher in a paradigm shift where the term "lithium-ion battery" becomes obsolete, replaced by a far more cost-effective technology. To establish their power bricks as the construction materials of the future, the researchers would also need to address issues of weather resistance and insulation.