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‘Smart’ bricks costing as little as 50p each can store electricity

A ‘smart brick’ that costs as little as 50p to produce can be used to store electricity  ‘like a battery’ and may be the future building material of choice, developers claim.

Researchers from Washington University found a way to convert simple ‘red bricks’ they purchased from a local hardware store into energy storage units. 

Red brick is one of the world’s cheapest and most common building materials in use today, but has been used in the same way for thousands of years. 

By adding a conductive polymer coating to a brick, the researchers were able to transform it into an electricity storage device, capable of powering an LED bulb.

The team say houses of the future could be made using their new version of the fired brick, and it could be used to power lights and other devices within homes.   

Chemists who developed the new technology claim just 50 of the bricks within a wall of a building could power emergency lighting for five hours.  

Walls and buildings made out of bricks already occupy large amounts of space, which could be better utilised if given a dual-purpose, study authors claim.

Julio D’Arcy and colleagues converted existing red bricks into a type of energy storage device known as a supercapacitor by painting on a layer of a conducting polymer called PEDOT.

The PEDOT coating seeps into the brick, thanks to its porous structure, where it reacts with the red pigment, which is made of iron oxide, or rust.

This triggers the polymerisation reaction and turns the brick into an ‘ion sponge’ that stores and conducts electricity. 

D’Arcy said the new energy storage method works with regular or recycled bricks.

‘As a matter of fact, the work that we have published stems from bricks that we bought at Home Depot right here in Brentwood, Missouri,’ she said.

While some architects and designers have recognised a normal red brick’s ability to absorb and store the sun’s heat, nothing has gone beyond that core use.

The new study marks the first time anyone has tried using bricks as anything more than thermal mass for heating and cooling – or as a simple building material.

The new method has been developed as a way to make or modify ‘smart bricks’ that can store energy until required for powering devices and lights.

Their research shows a charged up brick directly powering a green LED light as part of a proof of concept demonstration. 

Scientists’ calculations suggest that walls made of these energy-storing bricks could also store a substantial amount of energy.

Dr D’Arcy said: ‘PEDOT-coated bricks are ideal building blocks that can provide power to emergency lighting.’

‘We envision that this could be a reality when you connect our bricks with solar cells. This could take 50 bricks in close proximity to the load,’ she said. 

‘Advantageously, a brick wall serving as a supercapacitor can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour.

‘If you connect a couple of bricks, microelectronics sensors would be easily powered.’

Findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

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