Energy-Powered Bricks: The Key to Our Future | How to store energy in bricks |
source: Internet

Red bricks -- some of the world's cheapest and most familiar building materials -- can be converted into energy storage units that can be charged to hold electricity, like a battery, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis. Brick has been used in walls and buildings for thousands of years, but rarely has been found fit for any other use. Now, chemists in Arts & Sciences have developed a method to make or modify "smart bricks" that can store energy until required for powering devices. A proof-of-concept published Aug. 11 in Nature Communications shows a brick directly

Introducing "smart bricks"

The researchers developed the bricks by using amorphous carbon, a liquid state carbon that is drawn into a polymer matrix that acts as a scaffolding for binding other materials and yielding a brick-like structure. While other research teams have experimented with making bricks using clay, it is more challenging because clay crystallizes to form solid materials during baking. Most bricks on the market today are made from cement, rock aggregate, lime, sand, and water, and typically can store about 8 percent of the energy that is released when they are burned as fuel. Most bricks that exist can't store more than 1 percent energy.

How does this work?

In 2009, the researchers discovered a way to turn a cheap, ready-to-use brick into a supercapacitor, a device that can hold electric charge, similar to a battery. This technological trick requires firing the brick, with its existing internal structure, with an electrical gun at high pressure. In the Nature Communications paper, the researchers explain the team's method for modifying bricks for electrical storage. In this work, the researchers made several kinds of "smart bricks." The three types of bricks are shown on the left, with different orientations; the paper explains how one type of brick may be used to store energy, which can be released at will. Credit: Peter Linderkron/Washington University in St.

Where can smart bricks be used?

It's not currently clear, but there is interest in developing bricks that could be converted to power tools or fans, helping to alleviate energy wastage in homes and buildings. The bricks could also be used to store solar energy generated in farms and transmitted to power grids or to generate hydrogen fuel and store it, at least for a period of time, in the bricks. A smart brick is made from two components, ceramic and organic insulating material. The organic component acts as a sponge, absorbing heat and emitting it as heat as the brick cools. The process of making a smart brick is relatively simple. First, the clay layer of the brick is modified so it absorbs heat and stores it.

Red bricks converted into "smart bricks"

The researchers, led by Pulickel Ajayan, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, show that paint or coating a red brick in ethylene glycol can turn it into an inexpensive and efficient energy storage device. Ethylene glycol is a common food additive and safe to handle. In their experiments, the brick was coated in a paint that not only made it red but was also changed to absorb heat, making it easier to store energy. The key to the red brick's storage capacity is its polymer cell -- a modification made to brick to make it a smaller and more conductive cavity. This property, combined with the ability of the brick to absorb heat from the sun and other sources, makes it ideal for storing energy.


Although Red Brick is the most commonly-used brick, a brick can be a catalyst for new, unconventional construction methods. The energy-harvesting brick developed by the researchers, made from an inexpensive brick-making clay, provides a low-cost, flexible tool for the bricks to eventually change from brick to clay.

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