Electronics

Smart bricks store energy in the walls themselves

Smart bricks store energy in t...
A PEDOT-coated brick powers a green LED
A PEDOT-coated brick powers a green LED
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A PEDOT-coated brick powers a green LED
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A PEDOT-coated brick powers a green LED

Boring old bricks might not seem like something that can really be made high-tech, but researchers keep proving us wrong. Now, a team has found a way to turn bricks into energy storage devices, using them to power a green LED in a proof of concept study.

A brick wall doesn’t exactly do much – sure it holds up the roof and keeps the cold out, but maybe the bricks could pull their weight a bit more. That was the goal for a team of scientists at Washington University in St Louis, who wanted to test whether bricks could be used to store electricity.

The team started with regular red bricks, then gave them extra abilities by coating them in a conductive polymer called PEDOT. This stuff is made up of nanofibers that work their way inside the porous structure of the bricks, eventually turning the whole into “an ion sponge” that conducts and stores energy.

In particular, these bricks become supercapacitors, which can store larger amounts of energy and be charged and discharged more quickly than batteries. They can be stacked together to make a bigger or smaller energy storage device, and the whole wall is then finished off with a coat of epoxy to keep the elements out and the electricity in.

In tests, the team showed that a brick could charge to 3 volts in 10 seconds, and then light up a green LED for 10 minutes. It even worked underwater. Scaling it up, the team says that these power bricks could be hooked up to renewable sources like solar cells, to run an array of microelectronic sensors and lights. And as a supercapacitor, the bricks could be recharged hundreds of thousands of times every hour.

“PEDOT-coated bricks are ideal building blocks that can provide power to emergency lighting,” says Julio D’Arcy, lead author of the study. “We envision that this could be a reality when you connect our bricks with solar cells – this could take 50 bricks in close proximity to the load. These 50 bricks would enable powering emergency lighting for five hours.”

The method is reportedly simple and inexpensive to perform, and can be done on brand new bricks or to recycle old ones.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

11 comments
Techrex
?? Would these electrically-juiced up brick walls, all around a house, act like a kind of Faraday Cage, that would BLOCK radio waves or the WiFi field, used to telemetrically connect computer and cellphones devices inside houses made of them? If that happens, this great new invention's use by the public, might be dead-stopped, soon after they build a few modern and computer-equipped houses with it!
Bob Stuart
It would be nice to see some numbers. My little 'phone power bank has a blue LED that it can run for years.
anthony88
If I were to bang my head into one of these brick walls, would I have a lightbulb moment?
-dphiBbydt
Looking at the research paper, the energy figure they calculated or tested is about 1.6Wh per square meter of bricks.
John Schubert
This sounds like another gee-whiz technology that does not produce or save useful quantities of energy.
The article doesn't say that, because it doesn't discuss quantities meaningfully, but writer dphiBbydt took the trouble to go to the source research paper and found the information: 1.6Wh per square meter of bricks.
Do you realize how little that is? Your square meter of bricks will power a small bicycle headlight for an hour.
A house with some LED electric lights running, and an entertainment device or two, is consuming a couple hundred watts. That would need 62 square meters (more than 180 square feet) of these bricks. And if you ever want to run a dishwasher, well pump or water heater, it goes up dramatically from there.
What would be the path from this cute demonstration to a useful, cost-effective technology?
Captain Obvious
Techrex, no that wouldn't impact Wifi which is already inside your house. Cell signals are attenuated by walls anyhow, and my aluminum foil insulation blocks it terribly but it goes through the windows.

Clever idea, but I'll stick to putting coins in a lemon for my 10 minute low power LED lighting needs.
buzzclick
Forgetaboutit. This is practically useless. If one wants to use bricks for energy, they should think of thermal storage. Orient a brick (or stone) wall (with openings) to the southwest, cover it with a glass membrane and you have a heat battery to warm your home at night. This is not a new concept and it works.
Gregg Eshelman
They've invented the "black power" coating in Larry Niven's story "The Woman in Del Ray Crater", which is a murder mystery on the Moon.
Miro
Perfect example of useless spending of public money. Stupid useless "research", not mentioning poisoning consumer with polymers and BPA from epoxy. What about managing heat release in the charge/discharge cycle. I guess next big goal for that team of scientists at Washington University in St Louis will be research, house wall"s masonry, using car batteries.
Mark Keller
Interesting, I'm all for it.

This will only get better, maybe even now this will get someone thinking about how the bricks could also MAKE energy as well as STORE it.