Dec 21, 2018 | By Cameron

Solar and wind-power generation are becoming more cost effective than conventional sources like coal, oil, and gas, but the future will include renewable energy coming from even less likely sources: the walls. Specifically, exterior-facing walls as the 3D printed brick invented at King's College London generates electricity from the temperature differences that occur on opposing sides of the brick. If it’s warmer inside the building than it is outside (or vice versa), the brick generates electricity.

Their thermogalvanic brick is basically a solid-state form a Stirling engine (one of my favorite inventions), a machine that converts temperature differentials into mechanical motion that can be used directly, stored as thermal energy, or converted into electricity and stored in batteries. The magic happens in the 3D printed Schwarz D minimum surface structure that facilitates an electrochemical reduction and oxidation process in gelled water between the electrodes. The process consumes no compounds and the core can never be overcharged, so a wall made of these bricks could theoretically produce electricity into perpetuity.

While the bricks don’t produce enough electricity to power a refrigerator, they can power lights and charge smartphones. In parts of the world where kerosene is still burned for light at night, this passive power generator could prevent many deaths and injuries associated with kerosene fires and vapor inhalation. Leigh Aldous, Senior Lecturer from the Department of Chemistry at King's College explains, "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 nighttime lighting, and recharge a mobile phone.”

Energy is already expended by humans to make our living and working environments comfortable; we run the air conditioning in the hot summers and crank up the furnace in the cold of winter, so there’s almost always a temperature difference between inside and outside. These bricks would essentially recapture some of the energy that is otherwise lost when we heat or cool our homes. By paying to make the room more comfortable, users of these bricks would also be paying to power their lights but at no extra cost.

Additionally, the thermogalvanic bricks are stronger than traditional bricks and not combustible like batteries. "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," said Aldous.

Conor Beale, an undergraduate chemistry student, commented, "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." Beale is right, and 3D printed solutions regularly do have a substantial impact.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Benjamin Obeng wrote at 3/8/2019 10:39:37 AM:

Thermogalvanic cells do not use semiconductors and are cheaper than thermoelectric generators.

Dayseeker wrote at 12/27/2018 8:10:35 PM:

What about the cost factor?

Dayseeker wrote at 12/27/2018 8:08:28 PM:

but what about the cost factor?

Jack wrote at 12/24/2018 1:45:34 AM:

Won't it be too luxurious to build a wall with semiconductors?

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