Smart as a brick: Turning red bricks into smart energy storage devices

Happy Thursday afternoon, readers. Today’s top tech news hits like a ton of bricks. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that red bricks can be used to store electricity. Chemists developed a method to make “smart bricks” into a supercapacitor, a device that can hold energy until it’s needed to power an electric device. The bricks could turn out to be one of the world’s most prevalent and cheapest energy storage units.

  • Bricks’ ability to absorb and store heat already is known, but this is the first time they’ve been used for electricity storage as opposed to thermal heating and cooling.
  • The pigment in red bricks comes from iron oxide, or rust, and is crucial for triggering the reaction.
  • Walls made of the red bricks could store substantial energy, and they can be recharged hundreds of thousands of times an hour. “If you connect a couple of bricks, microelectronics sensors would be easily powered,” Julio D’Arcy, Washington University assistant professor of chemistry, said in a news release.
  • Red bricks could provide power for emergency lighting systems. “We envision that this could be a reality when you connect our bricks with solar cells — this could take 50 bricks in close proximity to the load. These 50 bricks would enable powering emergency lighting for five hours,” D’Arcy said.

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Today’s headlines:

🛢️ BIOFUEL: The state of Illinois granted a neighborhood group in Chicago the final $2 million it needs to build an urban farm and renewable energy project, reports Block Club Chicago. An anaerobic digester at the site, in one of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods, will turn food waste into fuel.

💧 WATER: Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland developed efficient electrical nanogenerators that work by harnessing and storing energy from water droplets hitting the surface of a thin, conductive film. The more droplets that hit the surface, the more charge builds, and it eventually carries enough energy to power an electronic device.

🌞 RENEWABLES: Evansville, Indiana-based CenterPoint Energy’s Southern Indiana Gas and Electric is opening a request for proposals for technologies that help the company transition some coal-fired energy generation to a combination of wind, solar, and solar-plus-storage.

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🚑 TRANSPORTATION: CNET highlights next-generation emergency response and command center vehicles, including those made by Burlington, Wisconsin-based LDV, noting that fuel cell technologies are the next big thing for these vehicles.


  • The U.S. Department of Energy unveiled the Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems (ARIES) research platform. It will help National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers and the greater scientific community develop and analyze new energy technologies — including electric vehicles, renewables, hydrogen, energy storage, and grid-interactive efficient buildings — at scale.
  • NREL also broke ground on a new Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) building that will provide lab space for a variety of cleantech efforts including advanced energy materials, next-gen batteries, and plastics upcycling.

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