Storing Electrical Energy in Red Bricks – Walls Could Act Like Huge Batteries


A red brick device developed by chemists at Washington University in St. Louis lights a green light emitting diode. The photo shows the core-shell architecture of a brick electrode coated with nanofibrillary PEDOT. Credit: D’Arcy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis

Picture yourself plugging into your brick house.

Red bricks – some of the cheapest and most familiar building materials in the world – can be converted into energy storage units that can be charged to contain electricity, like a battery, according to new research from the ‘Washington University in St. Louis.

Brick has been used in walls and buildings for thousands of years, but has rarely been found fit for any other purpose. Today, chemists in the arts and sciences have developed a method to make or modify “smart bricks” that can store energy until needed to power devices. A proof of concept published on August 11, 2020, in Nature Communication shows a brick directly powering a green LED light.

“Our method works with ordinary bricks or recycled bricks, and we can also make our own bricks,” said Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry. “In fact, the work we published in Nature Communication comes from bricks we bought from Home Depot right here in Brentwood, Missouri; each brick cost 65 cents.

Walls and brick buildings already take up large amounts of space, which could be better utilized if they were intended for additional electrical storage. While some architects and designers have recognized the humble brick’s ability to absorb and store heat from the sun, this is the first time anyone has attempted to use bricks as anything other than thermal mass for the heating and cooling.

D’Arcy and his colleagues, including University of Washington graduate student Hongmin Wang, first author of the new study, demonstrated how to convert red bricks into a type of energy storage device called a supercapacitor.

“In this work, we developed a coating of the conductive polymer PEDOT, which is composed of nanofibers that penetrate into the internal porous network of a brick; a polymer coating gets trapped in a brick and serves as an ionic sponge that stores and conducts electricity, ”D’Arcy said.

The red pigment in bricks – iron oxide or rust – is essential in triggering the polymerization reaction. The authors’ calculations suggest that the walls made from these energy storage bricks could store a substantial amount of energy.

“PEDOT coated bricks are ideal building blocks that can power emergency lighting,” D’Arcy said. “We envision that this could be a reality when you connect our bricks to solar cells – it could take 50 bricks close to the load. These 50 bricks would power the emergency lighting for five hours.

“Advantageously, a brick wall serving as a supercapacitor can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times in an hour. If you connect a few bricks, the microelectronic sensors would be easily powered.

Reference: “Energy Storage Bricks for PEDOT Stationary Supercapacitors” by Hongmin Wang, Yifan Diao, Yang Lu, Haoru Yang, Qingjun Zhou, Kenneth Chrulski and Julio M. D’Arcy, August 11, 2020, Nature Communication.
DOI: 10.1038 / s41467-020-17708-1

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