Humanity has an obsession with bricks. We use them to build our homes, spruce up our landscaping, make pizza ovens, and much more. That’s mostly because they are highly versatile and resilient against things like high pressure and frost. Bricks withstand fluctuating temperatures without shrinking or expanding and they’re great at absorbing heat. They’re also reusable and last for centuries.
But what if they could do more?
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis believe that they can. In fact, their team created a method that turns everyday bricks into batteries that can store electricity and power devices. Their research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Bricking Your Devices
Typically, the word brick is a bad thing when used in the same sentence as electronic devices. That isn’t the case with this application.
To understand the method for turning bricks into batteries, it’s important to know what goes into a brick. They get their warm brown-red color from an iron oxide called hematite. Oddly enough, hematite is also used in high-tech energy storage facilities.
By putting those facts together, scientists working on the project uncovered a breakthrough. They developed a method to modify bricks in a way that allows them to store electricity.
To do so, researchers coated regular bricks with a gas containing molecules that interact with hematite to trigger a polymerization reaction. Ultimately, it creates a polymer called PEDOT, which is able to store and conduct electricity.
Researchers then charged the bricks with a solar cell. They gave half of the bricks a negative charge and gave the other half a positive one. After connecting them with copper tape, the researchers had a crude battery.
To prove that their invention worked, they used the bricks to power a small LED light.
The team says that their brick batteries can be recharged in 13 minutes and have a lifespan of up to 10,000 charges. Sadly, they can’t store much energy. Julio D’Arcy, one of the researchers working on the study, says that 50 bricks can power three watts of emergency lighting for about 50 minutes. To put things in perspective, three watts is about equal to an LED desk lamp.
He seems to recognize the limitations of the brick batteries, saying, “We could just increase the number of bricks to increase the amount of energy you can stored, but we know that’s not a great strategy because coating more and more bricks can get expensive.”
Could it Work?
While this is a neat idea and has plenty of applications for the future, they are still many years away. Don’t expect brick walls to function as massive battery packs anytime soon.
Still, the brick batteries have a lot of potential. The team believes they could one day be used to power small electronic devices like carbon dioxide and smoke detectors. With some improvements to the process, the team also thinks it can drastically increase the storage capacity of the bricks.
If they succeed, brick batteries could quickly become a staple of solar-powered homes and green energy solutions.
“Bricks are so special to humans. We live in them, we’re always interacting with them,” D’arcy said. “We just want to improve them.”