A well-known fable about house-building pigs highlights the value of working both hard and smart. Now a team of dedicated and brainy scientists have discovered that basic bricks can do more than just keep the wolves out: They’ve turned ordinary bricks into batteries.
The scientists at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, created the so-called “smart bricks.” The modified clay blocks can store energy and power electronic devices.
“Our method works with regular brick or recycled bricks, and we can make our own bricks as well,” says assistant chemistry professor Julio D’Arcy. He points out that the model used for experiments “stems from bricks that we bought at Home Depot [for] 65 cents.”
Ordinary materials can become extraordinary in the right hands. Learning to see possibilities in little things is a gift, one that God demonstrates when He advises humans to observes the ways of the ant. (Proverbs 6:6)
Architects and designers have known about brick’s ability to absorb and store heat better than, say, straw or sticks . . . or many other materials. Brick walls and buildings take up lots of space. How much better if those blocks did double duty as electrical storage!
In the lab, D’Arcy and his coworkers use a plastic substance called PEDOT. With it, they fill the many tiny holes in clay bricks and coat the outsides.
The PEDOT-boosted bricks can then hold and conduct electricity. A single brick can charge to three volts in 10 seconds. That voltage can power an LED lightbulb for 10 minutes, even underwater.
Not only that, the smart bricks become supercapacitors: devices that charge faster, store more energy, and last longer than regular batteries. Supercapacitor bricks could be recharged thousands of times every hour.
Entire walls made of supercapacitor bricks could store vast amounts of energy. D’Arcy says, “Fifty bricks would [power] emergency lighting for five hours.” (Now think of how many bricks are used in a brick skyscraper! It takes about 8,000 bricks just to clad an average one-story home of 2,000 square feet. That’s a load of energy potential!)
Researchers hope to create a process to produce battery-bricks rapidly. They also hope to make smart bricks that fit together for easy connecting, like LEGOS.
Likely uses for smart bricks include emergency lighting and backup electricity for hospitals, nursing homes, and daycare centers. But the possibilities could be nearly endless!