Bricks as Energy Storage Devices

Bricks date back to 7000 BC, which makes them one of the oldest known building materials.  They were discovered in southern Turkey at the site of an ancient settlement around the city of Jericho.  The main ingredient of bricks is clay, a group of surface minerals that arise from the weathering of igneous rocks.  Conventional red bricks contain hematite which contains ferric ions that is safe to handle and affordable.  The three little pigs chose to build houses, so they could hide from the big bad wolf.  The third little pig wanted a house that was warm and strong, so he decided to build his house out of bricks.  Bricks are used to build houses because they are durable, and they provide good insulation from heat and cold.  Brick is a clean natural material that doesn’t impact on the environment.  Bricks are fired at temperatures so high that organic materials are eradicated.  An all-brick house is more energy efficient, and costs less money to maintain in utility costs.  A house made entirely of bricks is an investment, and it pays off in the short-term and long-run.

Red bricks are some of the world’s cheapest and most familiar building materials and now they can be converted into energy storage units that can be charged to hold electricity, like a battery.  Research scientists from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri have found a way to store energy in the red bricks that are used to build houses which they developed in 2019.  This new method can turn the cheap and widely available building material into smart bricks that can be used to store energy like a battery.  The research is still in the proof-of-concept stage, so they are still validating whether this product is feasible to take to the commercialization phase yet.  At this point, the bricks are being used to directly power LED lights for about 10 minutes, but in the future, this could be an efficient way of providing power to an emergency lighting system.  They worked with bricks that were bought at Home Depot and each brick was only 65 cents.  These bricks were exposed to acid, so they will probably not be used for construction purposes, but probably will be used in a more decorative capacity.  It is thought that walls made of these bricks could store a substantial amount of energy and they can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour without losing more than 10 per cent of their storage capacity.  The red bricks used in this type of energy storage are called supercapacitors.

This is made possible because of a conducting coating that is applied to them, known as Pedot.  It seeps through the fired bricks’ porous structure, converting them into energy storing electrodes.  PEDOT (or more accurately PEDOT:PSS) is a flexible transparent material that is also conductive.  The surface properties of poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):(polystyrene sulfonate) (PEDOT:PSS) affect the performance of many organic electronic devices.  These devices are typically used to fabricate active layers of organic light-emitting diodes and photovoltaic devices.  The researchers took regular red bricks and heated them with acid vapor, which dissolved the haematite in the bricks, the mineral that gives them their red color.  They used hydrochloric acid vapor to dissolve rust, a hydrated form of hematite (Fe2O3·nH2O).  The reaction freed aquated (associated with water) ferric ions to react with monomer vapor and initiate the polymerization of PEDOT into freestanding, nanofibrillar films.  Then they added other compounds, which reacted with the dissolved haematite, resulting in the bricks becoming riddled with a network of tiny, conductive PEDOT fibers.

After treatment, the bricks are a dark brownish-blue color instead of red.  Iron oxide also known as rust, is the red pigment in the bricks, and although this is typically a poor conductor of electricity, but it helps the process, as it is essential for triggering the polymerization reaction.  Despite this poor conductivity, an electron transferred to a particle of rust will use thermal energy to continually move or “hop” from one atom of iron to the next.  The researchers then coated the bricks in epoxy to make them waterproof.  These polymer-coated bricks could be hooked up to a power source to charge up or be connected with solar cells.

A fired brick’s open microstructure makes an ideal substrate for developing electrochemical PEDOT electrodes and stationary supercapacitors that readily stack into modules.  The performance of brick capacitors needs to be boosted by around a factor of ten to be competitive with lithium-ion batteries, but improvements will come over time, and for now it is probably best to view these technologies as complementary rather than competing.  Once this technology is developed further and if it succeeds, “power bricks” will be a literal term in the future!  If walls and buildings that are created out of bricks can be given a dual-purpose, this efficient power storage device could be a really good thing for mankind.

Brick’s porous structure is good for storing energy since pores provide greater brick area than solid materials have, and therefore the bigger the area the additional electricity a supercapacitor material will hold.  While some architects and designers have recognized the humble brick’s ability to absorb and store the sun’s heat, this is the first time anyone has tried using bricks as anything more than thermal mass for heating and cooling.  One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources, but new innovation could be giving us energy from bricks.  Will bricks ever become a commercially viable source of energy.  Please share your thoughts on bricks, or any other source of clean energy.  Respond to this Friday Faithfuls challenge by writing your thoughts about the future of clean energy.

7 comments

  1. Reblogged this on A Unique Title For Me and commented:

    I am looking for your thoughts on whether you think that Climate Change is a real thing, or if you think that we should be moving away from using fossil fuels toward some cleaner type of energy. I think it is nice that dinosaurs that died millions of years ago formed the energy sources that we are using today, but what if there was a better way? Let me know if you are using any clean renewable energy sources like solar power, wind power or if you think that we should all abandon the Earth and start over someplace else. I would like you to write about the efforts that you are employing to save the planet.

    Like

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