Researchers have had a breakthrough where an everyday house brick can be turned into a battery and store electricity.
The technology makes use of the fact that bricks are porous and have tiny airholes inside of them. The pores in the bricks can be filled with very small nanofibers of plastic that can conduct electricity and store charge. The first bricks that have been developed are able to store enough electricity to power small lights, however if the capacity can be improved then they have the potential to become a cheaper alternative to lithium ion batteries that are in use at the moment.
Technically speaking, the power bricks are supercapacitors instead of batteries as the electricity is stored as a static charge in solids instead of produced from chemical reactions in batteries. The main benefit of supercapacitors is that they are able to charge and discharge much faster than batteries do, however, at this moment they are limited due to the small fraction of electricity that can be stored in them.
Researchers across the globe are currently working to increase the amount of energy that can be stored in a supercapacitor and finding a better way to charge batteries faster. Finding solutions to these problems are some of the many hurdles in fighting the battle on the climate crisis. Finding these solutions would mean that any excess renewable energy that is produced can then be stored until it is needed instead of being wasted.
The current bricks that are under research only have a power density of 1% of that of a lithium ion battery. It is believed that this can be increased tenfold by adding materials to the brick such as metal oxides that would allow the brick to store more charge. If this is possible then it will mean that the bricks could actually be used commercially.
If this is possible then it would be a massive breakthrough as it the technology is significantly cheaper than the lithium ion alternatives. It could almost eradicate the need for lithium ion batteries in the future.
Another benefit of supercapacitors is that they can be charged and discharged many times without losing their ability to store electricity. For example, the power bricks can be charged and discharged 10,000 times before there is a noticeable drop in how much electricity they can store.
The charge stored in a single brick is not enough to produce a shock when touched however a wall of bricks would need an insulating cover to protect t it. Scientists have used an epoxy resin to protect the bricks which has proved to be successful. Using this insulator would also allow for the bricks to be used underwater.
Turning the bricks into a supercapacitor has a slight effect on their structural properties however most bricks used in house these days are for decoration purposes.
Lithium ion batteries costs have decreased by 90% in the last 10 years however finding an efficient way of storing electricity is yet to be achieved.