Today’s Solutions: March 23, 2023

This may sound crazy, but scientists have actually managed to turn the humble brick into a battery that can store electricity. Now you might be asking yourself: how is this possible?

Well, the new technology exploits the porous nature of fired red bricks by filling the pores with tiny nanofibers of a conducting plastic that can store charge. The first bricks store enough electricity to power small lights. But if their capacity can be increased, they may become a low-cost alternative to the lithium-ion batteries currently used.

Strictly speaking, the power bricks are supercapacitors rather than batteries. Supercapacitors store electricity as a static charge in solids, rather through chemical reactions as in batteries.

The advantage of supercapacitors is that they charge and discharge far faster than batteries, but to date, they can only hold a small fraction of the energy. This percentage, however, could be increased tenfold by adding materials such as metal oxides to store more charge in the brick, which would also make the power bricks a commercial proposition. It also raises the possibility that buildings could one day become literal powerhouses.

The hope is to eventually match the energy density of lithium-ion batteries using a variety of materials such as metal oxides.

“If so, this technology is way cheaper than lithium-ion batteries,” said Julio D’Arcy, at Washington University in St Louis. “It would be a different world and you would not hear the words ‘lithium-ion battery’ again.”

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