Scientists have managed to turn a humble building brick into an energy-storage device, describing their findings as a “scalable process” that could potentially turn entire buildings into giant recyclable batteries, according to a recently-published research paper.
In the study, chemical vapours react with the iron oxide in red bricks, to form a layer of special conductive plastic, which “exhibits a high electronic conductivity and facile charge transfer,” according to a research paper published this month in the Nature Communications journal.
The iron oxide in a standard house brick, also known as hematite, is where its red hue originates. Other cutting-edge energy storage devices are also produced from hematite, such as the lithium-ion batteries for electric cars.
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The “power bricks” can be recycled up to 10,000 times before losing their capacity. When applied with epoxy resin, they can also work underwater. The reaction to the chemical vapours in the test turns the red bricks blue, if the exposure lasts more than 4 hours, according to the study authored by seven researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, five of whom are Chinese.
The treated bricks basically act as supercapacitors, which can charge faster and last longer than standard batteries, but currently they cannot store as much energy.
“A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries,” said Julio D’Arcy, one of the authors, according to a Guardian news report. “What we have done is provide a new ‘food-for-thought’ option, but we’re not there yet.”
D’Arcy said that the energy density of the first observed bricks was just 1 per cent of that of lithium-ion batteries, but he believed it could be increased tenfold by adding materials such as metal oxides, which would also make the power bricks a commercial proposition.
Scientists around the world are seeking new forms of power generation and storage. The US Navy in 2014 said they had developed a technology to convert seawater into fuel. Last month, the research project said a new catalyst had been added that could potentially enable the process to be applied on an industrial scale.
In 2018, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences invented a material that could generate power from body heat and said they expected it to be widely used in wearables, such as smartwatches and earphones, in around 5 years’ time.
This article US university research team say they have invented a process that can transform bricks into ‘batteries’ first appeared on South China Morning Post