A team of scientists, led by King’s College London, that also includes researchers from Arizona State University and UNSW Sydney have created a thermogalvanic brick that produces electricity. The electricity flows when the two opposing faces of the brick are different temperatures.
Inside the brick at the two faces, a balanced ‘electrochemical’ reduction and oxidation process produces the electricity. While the electrodes at these faces are at different temperatures, the electrochemical reactions take place and electricity is generated.
Unlike batteries. the compounds inside are not consumed, do not run out and can never be overcharged. So, as long as there is a temperature difference the device can make electricity. For example, if a house or shelter’s outside wall is hot from the sun, but the interior is shaded and cool, in theory, electricity could be generated by the wall.
The brink has gelled water and features a 3D printed interior based upon a Schwarz D minimum surface structure, and according to the researchers, the thermogalvanic bricks are stronger than household bricks. In addition to allowing the electrochemistry to occur, they can reportedly enhance insulation.
The team as part of a PLuS Alliance partnership – believe that this new device could help grant access to affordable and sustainable energy that is independent of an electrical grid. Four undergraduate students, including two King’s Chemistry students, helped conduct the critical experiments to demonstrate that these devices could work. The team has now filed a provisional patent for the bricks.
Dr Leigh Aldous, Senior Lecturer from the Department of Chemistry at King’s College said, “The idea is that these bricks could be 3D printed from recycled plastic, and be used to quickly and easily make something like a refugee shelter. By the simple act of keeping the occupants warmer or cooler than their surroundings, electricity will be produced, enough to provide some night time lighting, and recharge a mobile phone.”
Dr. Aldous added, “Crucially, they do not require maintenance, recharging or refilling. Unlike batteries, they store no energy themselves, which also removes risk of fire and transport restrictions.”
Conor Beale, a 2nd year undergraduate Chemistry student at King’s who worked on the project said, “What is so interesting is that we can take something so common and never thought about, such as temperature difference in houses, and use it to create electricity. For a family living in a developing country, this could have a substantial impact.”