For as long as humans have inhabited the Earth, bricks have been a key component and foundation from generation to generation, building society from the ground up. Yet, for as valuable as bricks have been in supporting our day to day lives, a recent discovery signals that their impact could be even more widespread than ever thought possible.
Chemists have discovered new potential and applications through a series of reactions, as scientists have been able to show that a typical brick can actually be transformed into energy storage devices that have enough power to turn on LED lights where these findings were published in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17708-1).
While scientists are trying to pump the brakes in saying that there is more work and development to be done before these “smart bricks” are available for the open market, they say that with the evidence they have at their disposable there is growing optimism that one day these bricks could turn the walls of one’s home into a battery to store renewable energy.
As explained by Julio M. D’Arcy, an assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri,and one of the study’s authors, “What we have demonstrated in our paper is sufficient enough for you to light up emergency lighting that’s in a hallway or sensors that could be embedded inside the walls of a house. D’Arcy then goes on to elaborate that “e next step is trying to store more energy, so that you can power bigger devices — like maybe a laptop — directly from the walls of the house.”
In taking “advantage of what bricks offer, and what they offer is a porous network and a very strong material,” researchers have sought to capitalize on bricks’ natural structure to maximize their true energy storing capabilities.
In order to give the bricks the ability to store electricity, researchers pumped a series of gasses through the maze of pores inside the brick, where the gases then reacted with the brick’s chemical components, coating them in a web of plastic nanofiber known as PEDOT which is known as a good conductor of electricity. In fact, this process was able to turn the bricks from their normal color of red hue into a dark shade of blue.
While D’Arcy says these “smart bricks” are similar to batteries, they’re technically supercapacitors which differ from traditional batteries. While supercapacitors can store large amounts of energy, they can’t hold onto that charge or deliver continued energy over sustained periods of times unlike batteries. As D’Arcy explains, “A battery will give you energy density that will allow you to drive 300 miles, but a supercapacitor will allow you to accelerate very quickly at a red light.”
Even considering all of this, scientists still see plenty of potential in these bricks as an environmentally friendly solution moving forward. While these “smart bricks” aren’t at the point where they can challenge the energy storage capabilities of say the lithium-ion batteries used in many solar power systems, there is plenty of hope that when developed this technology could provide a new and unique storage method using readily available materials. In the words of Dan Brett, a professor of electrochemical engineering at University College London who was not a part of the study itself, “The performance is a long way short of bespoke (custom)supercapacitors, but the principle is proven and there is significant scope for improving the storage characteristics by optimizing the structure and chemistry of the bricks”
With a constant push for innovation and environmentally friendly yet capable solutions, when developed the use of these “smart bricks” may very well be the future of powering everyday life, and that in it of itself is a scientific development worth pursuing.