Did whoever build your house utilize bricks in any of the construction? If so, you might be sitting on a pile of potential batteries. Well, not really batteries, but high-energy capacitors that could be used to store energy. Researchers have discovered how to convert regular construction bricks into capacitors that could boost solar energy.
What we commonly know as a battery stores energy by way of a chemical process that moves ions from the positive end of a battery to the negative end. Discharging the battery forces the ions back to the positive side through a reverse chemical reaction that creates an electrical current.
At the heart of every battery is its energy density. We understand energy density as a battery’s capacity. The higher the density, the more energy a battery can store. That leads us to the brick batteries being developed in a lab at Washington University.
From Brick to Polymer
University researcher and assistant professor of chemistry Julio D’Arcy have come up with a way to take advantage of one of the key components of standard construction bricks to make battery-like capacitors. That component is iron oxide.
According to D’Arcy, iron oxide gives construction bricks their reddish color. It is also a good material for initiating the chemical reaction that makes batteries work. It just needs a little help to make it more reactive. That help comes from an acid that converts the iron oxide into a more reactive chemical.
To create their brick batteries, D’Arcy and his team started by visiting the local hardware store to purchase a load of bricks. Back in the lab, they put the bricks in an oven and infused them with acid vapors. The gaseous acid dissolved the iron oxide in preparation for a second gas pumped into the oven.
The combination of the two gases creates a polymer inside the brick. This polymer consists of nanofibers that penetrate the interior spaces rather effectively. Subsequently, the fibers can hold ions like a sponge holds water.
Energy Storing Capacitors
D’Arcy’s brick batteries are considered capacitors instead of traditional batteries because they conduct energy rather than utilizing a chemical reaction to create energy. They offer significant energy density which could be harnessed to supply power to buildings. Unfortunately, they discharge very quickly.
Researchers tested their brick batteries by powering LED lights with them. Everything worked just as planned. Now the goal is to find a way to improve the batteries so that they offer greater capacity without having to scale up. The idea is to make each brick more powerful so that you do not necessarily have to keep adding bricks to increase power capacity.
Building with Rechargeable Bricks
One of the nice benefits of D’Arcy’s bricks is that they can be fully recharged in about 13 minutes. A single brick can also be charged about 10,000 times. That is pretty impressive. Still, perfecting the bricks will not bring about the end of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Brick batteries will have limited applications for sure.
That said, building with rechargeable bricks will undoubtedly lead to advancements in other kinds of batteries. Perhaps the USB rechargeables sold by Pale Blue Earth will be made better by what researchers at Washington University learn over the coming years.
In the meantime, it is interesting to dream about a brick home that is energy independent thanks to brick batteries and solar power collectors. Imagine never having an electric bill. Imagine being able to turn on the lights and know that you are not drawing power from a nuclear or coal-burning plant. Pretty cool!