ST. LOUIS — Washington University is gaining worldwide attention after some breakthrough research by some of their students in how we use energy in our world.
Five years ago, the students were studying how plastic and nanofibers conduct electricity. Their lab focused their studies on more green and natural power alternatives.
Their research turned to something that many of us would never give a second thought to: rust on bricks.
The WashU researchers discovered how to convert the red pigment into a plastic to conduct electricity. Here's what happens when they put it in a low temperature oven.
"You can take the brick and break it up with a hammer and all the pieces are blue and all these pieces conduct electricity,” explained Julio D'Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University. “If you take a little piece and you put it in a microscope, you're going to see all the holes that a brick has, plus you're going to see that all of the blue coating has little nanofibers and these little hairs inside the pores of the brick is what stores energy.”
Just think what the future holds for your home.
"Down the line when someone is building your home with the bricks, they are building the foundation on the outside but also building your energy storage unit." D’Arcy explained.
Right now, it is the equivalent to 1% of the storage in a lithium ion battery. The researchers expect that to increase to 10% in three years, and that has construction companies and architects already intrigued.
"The idea that we have developed new construction material for them, a new LEGO piece that they didn't have in their arsenal is very attractive to them" said D'Arcy.
Sixty regular-sized bricks would be able to power emergency lighting for 50 minutes and would recharge through solar panels in just 13 minutes.
"So, you can easily take two bricks and make one of them positive and one negative and you put them together and that in essence is a battery, except what we made is not a battery, it has a different name: a supercapacitor."
D'Arcy laughed with 5 On Your Side’s Monica Adams over how similar it sounds to the flux capacitor in “Back to the Future”.
He said he wishes they invented that, but this is pretty amazing in and of itself. They have developed the recipe for an alternative energy source. They're not there yet, but keep an eye on this research, it may be the way of the future.
You can read more of their published results in the journal Nature Communications.