Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Chemists at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a method for converting red bricks, the ubiquitous building material, into "smart bricks" that can be charged and store energy like a battery.
Scientists published their proof-of-concept paper this week in the journal Nature Communications.
"Our method works with regular brick or recycled bricks, and we can make our own bricks as well," co-author Julio D'Arcy said in a news release.
"As a matter of fact, the work that we have published in Nature Communications stems from bricks that we bought at Home Depot right here in Brentwood, Missouri; each brick was 65 cents," said D'Arcy, an assistant professor of chemistry at Washington.
Designers and engineers have previously recognized the brick's ability to absorb and store the sun's energy, but the latest study marks the first time researchers have developed a strategy for converting a red brick into a supercapacitor.
"In this work, we have developed a coating of the conducting polymer PEDOT, which is comprised of nanofibers that penetrate the inner porous network of a brick; a polymer coating remains trapped in a brick and serves as an ion sponge that stores and conducts electricity," D'Arcy said.
The iron oxide, or rust, that give bricks their red color works to trigger the polymerization process. Authors of the proof-of-concept paper have yet to build a chargeable brick, but their calculations suggest a smart brick could store significantly amounts of energy.
The research team proposed a range of potential applications for their smart bricks. For example, a collection of smart bricks could be linked with solar cells and used to power emergency lighting.
"Advantageously, a brick wall serving as a supercapacitor can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour. If you connect a couple of bricks, microelectronics sensors would be easily powered," D'Arcy said.