Scientists Transform Bricks Into Supercapacitors

Washington University researchers have developed an energy storage device out of common building bricks capable of powering an LED.

Cabe Atwell
4 years agoSensors
The red pigment in commercial bricks contain trace amounts of rust, and when used with special polymers, the bricks can store energy. (📷: Washington University)

Researchers from Washington University St. Louis have developed a way to turn everyday construction bricks into supercapacitors capable of storing energy. The proof of the concept for transforming ordinary bricks that have been made the same way for thousands of years could hold applications in powering homes or even used as sensors. For example, the bricks could be wired to solar panels to store energy for times when homes lose power.

The team has been experimenting with rust over the last several years, which is generally seen as a detriment. Still, they found if that it’s treated chemically, it becomes reactive and can be used for storing energy. The red pigment found in construction bricks contains a certain amount of rust, which led the scientists to examine their structural properties and see if they could be used as supercapacitors. It turns out, those bricks are very porous, and they took advantage of that space and filled it with a nanofibrillar coating of conducting polymer poly (3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), which increased the surface area and conductivity of the bricks.

That special coating allowed the researchers to create a prototype smart brick capable of storing enough energy to power a single green LED. Sure, it’s a far cry from the massive energy storage facilities found around the globe, but it’s a significant first step in utilizing a cheap medium for power storage. The team is looking into expanding on their findings, using different polymers to create bricks with water purification properties and others with air sensors. It will be interesting to see where this technology will evolve in the next 10 years.

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