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Friday, December 4, 2020

Powerhouses: nanotechnology turns bricks into batteries

Research could cover way for cheap super capacitor storage of renewable energy

The house brick has been turned into a battery that can store electricity, raising the possibility that one day building become a literal powerhouses. The new nanotechnology utilize the porous nature of fired bricks by filling the pores with tiny nanofibres of a conducting plastic that can store charge. The first single bricks store enough electricity to power small lights. But if capacity can be increased, they may become a alternative to the lithium-ion battery.

How nanotechnology turned a brick into battery?

The power bricks are super capacitor rather than batteries. Super capacitors store electricity as a static charge in solids, rather than chemical reactions as in batteries. The advantage of super capacitors is that they charge and discharge faster than batteries. Researchers around the world are working to increase the energy density of super capacitors, as well as charging speed of batteries.

“A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries,” said Julio D’Arcy. The energy density of the first power bricks, reported in the journal Nature Communications, is just 1% of that of lithium ion batteries. D’Arcy believes this can be increased tenfold by adding materials such as metal oxides to store more charge in the brick.

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The researchers created small template of the power bricks using chemical vapours to react with the red iron oxides in the bricks and then to form a network of plastic nonofibers. A special plastic, called Pedot, was used as it is a good conductor of electricity. The reactions turned the red brick into dark blue color.

The charge stored by first bricks is too small to give a shock when touched. But a wall of connected bricks would need an insulating coating and the scientists demonstrated this using epoxy resin, which allowed the bricks works underwater. The reaction used to create the power bricks may have a small weakening effect on their structural properties, D’Arcy said, but in any case bricks were most commonly used today in houses as decorative facades.

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