Scientists invent smart electricity-storing bricks from ordinary ones

Posted: August 12, 2020 by oldbrew in innovation, research
Tags: ,


Electric storage heating has been around for decades, but this is a bit different, storing power rather than heat. After a predicted 10,000 recharge cycles performance may degrade. The researchers say: ‘Our supercapacitor technology adds value to a “dirt-cheap” construction material and demonstrates a scalable process affording energy storage for powering embedded microdevices in architectural applications that utilize fired brick.’
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Helping turn ordinary bricks into energy-storing ones is PEDOT — poly polystyrene sulfonate — a polymer that stores and conducts electricity, says MEA WorldWide.

The walls of your home are capable of storing electricity, like batteries. It would need two materials: the humble red bricks and plastic, according to scientists who turned ordinary bricks into “smart” ones in their new study.

It opens up the possibility of plugging gadgets directly into American homes.

In fact, bricks are known for absorbing and storing the sun’s heat. And because buildings can take up large amounts of space, researchers from Washington University in St Louis wondered if it can also store electricity. So they began testing the feasibility of the idea.

The idea of developing smart bricks draws from Dr Julio D’Arcy’s previous work. He is the assistant professor of chemistry. Dr D’Arcy’s team has been working on developing plastics that allow electricity to flow through them or conductors.

“Using a brick was a natural evolution for us because its pigment [rust] is a form of iron corrosion that we have used in the past,” he told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). The team believed that bricks could help produce an even better electrically conducting plastic.

“Our method works with regular brick or recycled bricks, and we can make our own bricks as well,” said Dr D’Arcy. “The work that we have published in Nature Communications stems from bricks that we bought at Home Depot right here in Brentwood (Missouri); each brick was 65 cents,” he added.

Helping turn ordinary bricks into energy-storing ones is PEDOT — poly polystyrene sulfonate — a polymer that stores and conducts electricity. They created a form of this plastic which not only deposits on the surface but also in the interior pores of the brick, he added. “The plastic coating that we put on bricks makes them blue,” Dr D’Arcy explained.

When these modified bricks are sandwiched together, they can store electricity. “This is similar to stacking bricks on a wall except the stacking here enables the flow of electricity between bricks,” he said.

The red pigment in bricks — iron oxide, or rust — is also essential to the process. The authors’ calculations suggest that walls made of these energy-storing objects could store a substantial amount of energy.

They could provide power to emergency lighting, D’Arcy said. To achieve that, the researchers think, 50 bricks will need to be connected to solar cells.

“Our bricks do not catch on fire because they use water in the device, and also our device can be recharged 10,000 times,” D’Arcy said of its advantages. As for the energy-storing abilities [energy density], he explained, it is two orders of magnitude lower than a lithium-ion battery.

Full article here.

Study: Energy storing bricks for stationary PEDOT supercapacitors

Comments
  1. ivan says:

    First question – why?

    I suppose as an example of academics playing with a new material it might have some merit but the question is still why when they have reliable coal fired power plants an a few nuclear ones as well.

    This feels like a semi solution looking for a problem – something like the idea some academics had of melting something and storing it then using the heat later to produce electricity, some years ago.

    The other thing, if I am not mistaken, is that the majority of houses in the US are timber frame units that do not use brickwork except as as a decoration e.g. fireplace, feature wall of a room, etc.

  2. Graeme No.3 says:

    I wasn’t aware that polystyrene sulfonate was electrically conductive. Maybe the reaction with iron salts (turns the brick green) makes a difference.
    So all you have to do is demolish your old home and replace it with (green coloured) bricks, and you might enjoy the benefit of stored renewable electricity. I have 2 questions
    1. what savings will be made to pay for the cost? and
    2. have they checked the reaction of the female side to living in green coloured brick enclosures?

  3. oldbrew says:

    “The plastic coating that we put on bricks makes them blue,” Dr D’Arcy explained.

  4. Peter Norman says:

    Nice one, Ivan.
    UK houses can be timber frame on inside walls but our weather dictates brick/block external using mortar (conductive when damp) for bonding. Can somebody explain how this BS idea could work at all in the UK building regulated real world and what’s the fire risk if we do decide to go plastic external i.e. Grenfell Tower lessons?

  5. Dave Ward says:

    “When these modified bricks are sandwiched together”

    And joined together how? Surely any sort of conventional mortar is going to interfere with the “the flow of electricity between bricks” ?

  6. Gamecock says:

    ‘The idea of developing smart bricks draws from Dr Julio D’Arcy’s previous work.’

    Marketing department at Unilever?

    Them bricks isn’t ‘smart.’

    Teaching them one trick doesn’t make them smart.

  7. JB says:

    “…the energy-storing abilities [energy density], he explained, it is two orders of magnitude lower than a lithium-ion battery.”

    For those who realize what this implies–in a fully bricked house (ignoring its appearance) there might be enough energy stored to run an LED porch light or two all night. (Typical single LED current is 10-20mA, supplied by 6 bricks? For how long?) And then there’s the cost of the energy source to pump it up again.10K cycles = ~27 years of daily charge/discharge. And then what do you do with the brick? Strip the coating and reapply, or does the process convert the iron in the brick into a non-functional element for electrical energy?

    Of much greater consideration is the ability of the coating to absorb large amounts of current over a short period. Making the house walls into semiconductors makes them more attractive to atmospheric discharge. So what happens to the coating during a lightning discharge? Does it do to the brick what it does to concrete when the rebar steel becomes superheated from huge current flow?

    And not least, what are the disposal considerations for exhausted material?

  8. Gamecock says:

    Washington University in St Louis has solved all other problems and got down the list to storing electricity in bricks.

    Scanning the linked paper, it appears they use the FISH storage algorithm: First In, Still Here.

    I.e., the paper is about storing electricity. It says nothing of getting it back out! Yes, I’m smirking.

  9. oldbrew says:

    Dave Ward – see this section in the study: ‘Quasi-solid-state PEDOT-coated brick supercapacitor’.

    JB – this gives us the clue: ‘affording energy storage for powering embedded microdevices’.

  10. EternalOptimist says:

    they are talking capacitors. Capacitors store energy, but not in the same way as batteries. Batteries use a chemical method, capacitors use two plates separated by a non conductor. and (somehow) the energy is stored between the plates.
    capacitors are expensive cf batteries.
    they also short out. they discharge instantaneously. usually with a big bang and a flash and lots of brown adrenalin running down your leg.
    (speaking as an ex radar technician)

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