A Power Storage Brick Can Power LED Lights

The humble brick has long been used as a construction material, but researchers are now turning it into an energy storage device. The bricks—which are also known as home batteries, power storage bricks and battery for home use—are capable of storing enough energy to turn on LED lights.

They are technically supercapacitors, which store electricity as static charge in solids rather than through chemical reactions like batteries. The proof-of-concept bricks take 13 minutes to fully recharge and can be reused 10,000 times.

1. High energy density

A brick wall can pick up thermal solar energy during the day, but storing that heat adds cost and reduces efficiency. A better solution is to generate electricity from it using a small Rankine cycle steam turbine.

To do that, the team took advantage of the bricks’ natural porosity by coating them power-storage-brick with a layer of conductive plastic known as PEDOT. The researchers used chemical vapors that reacted with the iron oxide that gives red brick its color, depositing the plastic throughout the brick’s pores.

The result was a brick supercapacitor that takes 13 minutes to charge and can be recharged 10,000 times. Embedded into walls and coupled with solar panels, the system could produce electricity to power buildings, houses, and vehicles.

The system also has one of the lowest operational costs among energy storage systems. When the wind stops blowing and the sun sets, it simply lowers the massive bricks down a ramp at about 2.0 meters per second (about 6.6 ft/s). That kinetic energy can then be used to generate electricity, which is sent back to the grid via cables. A management system orchestrates the process based on various factors, including energy supply and demand, weather elements, and more. It’s the latest development in a line of electricity storage systems that is changing the way we generate, transmit and use energy.

2. Easy to install

Imagine a world where bricks in your home store energy, instead of just supporting the structure. That future may not be far away, according to chemists at Washington University in St. Louis, who have turned conventional red building bricks into energy storage units that hold electricity like batteries. Their proof-of-concept, published this week in Nature Communications, showed a single brick directly powering an LED light.

Researchers used waste materials from the ceramics industry—like iron oxide and ash—to create their new brick-based supercapacitor, which can be recharged in less than 13 minutes. They say the technology could be used to generate renewable energy during the day and store it for use at night or during grid outages.

Solar power is growing rapidly as an alternative to fossil fuels, but it can still be challenging to generate enough energy when the sun isn’t shining. Batteries are one way to solve the problem, but they can be expensive and require frequent maintenance.

The research team’s new bricks solve some of these issues by utilizing the energy generated from solar panels to charge themselves. They then use that stored energy to keep lights on and phones charged—no gas generator required.

The bricks are also lightweight, making them easy to install in existing homes. They also don’t emit flammable gases, so they can be installed in locations that aren’t near combustible materials, such as wood.

3. Modularity

Energy storage is a crucial element for a green power supply. We need innovative solutions to store the electricity produced by renewable generation and release it at times when demand is high. There are many possible ways to do this. Some are quite futuristic.

For example, a company called Energy Vault has created a gravity-based system that uses Lithium battery 48v 100ah bricks to store energy. It takes the energy generated when wind or solar production is high and raises 30-tonne bricks inside a special building, which enables them to store kinetic energy (similar to the energy held in a spring). When the bricks are lowered, they release that kinetic energy to generate electricity again.

Other innovative solutions include molten salts that can efficiently store and release heat energy, compressed air that stores a large amount of energy, or flywheel systems. But the most intriguing is a new development that converts ordinary bricks into energy storage units. Scientists at the Washington University St. Louis have proven that red bricks, one of the most familiar and cheap building materials in the world, can be charged to store energy, kind of like a battery.

The brick shape of the batteries complements many different types of home designs, and the modular design allows the capacity to be increased flexibly as energy needs change. The power-storage-brick is an ideal solution for residential energy storage, and its minimalist design fits in with modern living.

4. Long lifetime

As the world shifts to more renewable energy, it’s essential that we find ways to store it. Energy storage systems can help balance intermittent power sources, such as solar and wind, to create a consistent flow of electricity. But that can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if the technology is not widely adopted.

A recent study aims to make energy storage more accessible, using bricks as a foundation for an alternative system. Researchers transformed standard bricks into energy-storing devices by using a special chemical to coat them with a web of conductive plastic called PEDOT. The result is a brick that can recharge 10,000 times before its energy-storing capacity degrades significantly, and it still looks like a brick.

The bricks are waterproof and mechanically tough, able to endure 10,000 charge-discharge cycles at ambient temperature with nearly 100% coulomb efficiency and 90% capacitance retention. A three-brick capacitor module can reach a voltage window of 3.6 V, with an areal capacitance of 1.60 F cm-2 and energy density of 222 mWh cm-2.

While this technology offers a low-cost alternative to lithium batteries, it has a long way to go before it can compete with products such as Elon Musk’s Powerwall, which costs around $3000 USD for a home battery that stores solar energy during the day and makes it available at night. Other companies are taking a different approach, using heat to capture and store excess solar energy. Rondo Energy, for example, uses sand to absorb waste heat, which it then releases over time to generate electricity.