Why it matters: Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have developed a method to store energy using red bricks, an abundant and affordable building material that has been in use for thousands of years. Commercial plans weren't mentioned but it's easy to see how this could be implemented in the real world, perhaps in conjunction with solar cells, to have a serious impact on how we store energy.

To make its "smart bricks," the team created a coating made of the conducting polymer PEDOT. The nanofibers in the coating are able to penetrate the inner porous material of the brick, serving as an ion sponge that stores and conducts electricity.

The red pigment in the bricks, rust, is key to triggering the polymerization reaction.

According to Julio D'Arcy, an assistant professor of chemistry that worked on the project, the coating is compatible with regular and recycled bricks. "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," D'Arcy added.

Walls constructed of these smart bricks could store a substantial amount of energy and make better use of existing structures. For example, D'Arcy said just 50 bricks could power emergency lighting for up to five hours.

"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."

The team's research was published in the August 11 edition of Nature Communications.

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