152: Brick Batteries – Making Old Tech New Again

Matt and Sean talk about brick, rocks, and other physical heat storage battery tech paths. It’s an old concept that’s finally catching on in a big way.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “How A Brick & Rock Battery Is Changing Energy Storage”: https://youtu.be/B3JlTVt0jLw?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi5LVxHfWfQE6-Y_HnK-sgXS

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On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about how the third little piggy was onto something. That’s right. We’re talking about brick batteries. Hey everybody, as usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids and I’m just generally curious about technology and luckily for me, my brother is Matt of, that’s right.

Undecided with Matt Ferrell. . That’s right. His videos on his channel. Are what get these discussions going as well as comments from listeners or viewers such as all of you who are currently chomping at the bit to hear what Matt has to say. Matt, how you doing? I’m doing pretty well. How about you? I’m sure that comment kept your listeners very, very satisfied.

Before we get into today’s discussion, some thoughts from our previous episode. This is episode 1 51, our discussion about motor technology developments that were inspired, the conversation that was inspired by the breakthrough by a 17 year old high school student with an interesting model of non-magnetic.

uh, no rare earth metal usage in the motor. Mm-hmm. . And it inspired discussions along the lines of why that kind of path is important and the comments on that episode. There was a lot of commentary touting the idea of moving where way from rare earth metals, but there was also a certain amount of commentary around YouTube’s bad editing software.

So Matt , no specific comment brought up to share with everybody today, but I just wanted to let you know that a lot of the commenters understood your pain. Trying to use YouTube’s editing software is a high pain point, and this all came out of the fact that Matt had to use his, the YouTube software because if I understand correctly, when you try to remove and replace a video on.

YouTube doesn’t like that. So in order to edit a live video, you have to use their software. It’s the only way to edit a live video, and as a result, you end up shackling yourself to a terrible piece of technology. Yes,

you’re, you’re at, you’re at their whims when you’re using their tool of like, I think this is gonna be a precise edit, and it looks good in the preview, and then it renders out and it’s like, wow, that isn’t even close to what I was

expecting to see.

So today’s discussion is going to focus on Matt’s most recent video, which is about brick batteries. This is similar to a discussion that we’ve had previous. where mm-hmm. , that discussion was focused on, it was a, it looked a little bit like a silo, and it was, yes. If I remember correctly, it was filled with stone, correct.

Sand. Sand, okay. That’s what it was. Yeah. It was filled with sand. Yeah. And there were heating coils within it, and it mm-hmm. would take excess energy from solar or wind farm or whatever. Original source of energy was and store it physically as heat in the silo that is super insulated to the point where the heat doesn’t just dissipate through the sides of the container.

And then later when you wanna recapture that heat, you’ve got it already in storage. So here we have a similar technique using bricks, and these are just not, this isn’t bricks you would use to build a house. These are special bricks. Yes. Correct.

Yeah. Similar. , but especially

made for this . There was a lot of commentary on this episode about just heat storage.

It seems almost as if heat storage. Mm-hmm. is a concept that for some reason has just largely been ignored. Yeah. Where when you stop and think about it, it kind of seems like shouldn’t have that have been a very rudimentary starting point for a lot of energy storage to simply say, well, if we’ve got the energy right.

How do we keep it here? Let’s just, let’s keep it here. Let’s keep it here. As opposed to, yeah, yeah. Converting. This is something known for

it. It’s been known for a long time. This is not like a new concept. It’s, but it’s hasn’t been used in a large scale format like this before. And I think the reason that we’re seeing it now is because there’s this urgency around energy where we’re trying to get off of fossil fuels and we’re trying to find different ways to be more efficient with our energy usage.

And so it’s like, I think that is the thing that’s kind of putting the tipping point of helping to push these forward where we should have been doing this for the past a hundred years, 200 years. We should have been doing this for forever, but, There was no reason to do that when it’s like, oh, oil is so cheap.

It’s like, we don’t have to worry about that. We just take this stuff and just burn it and get the heat we need at the moment. We need it now. Now we’re at a point where it’s like, well, that’s a finite resource and it’s not great for, you know, the environment, so we have to find other methods to do this better.

It’s like, well, okay, now we, we know how to store heat in, in, in, in mass. Why aren’t we doing this more? And so it’s these different companies that are coming up with different techniques on how to store it. So TS or thermal energy storage is becoming a, a big thing now, which is kind of exciting. And also just a face palm John Luke Picard, but why weren’t we doing this already?

Right? . .

There were comments like this from Dig Ride who spoken, basically the vein that you just spoke about. Mm-hmm. Dig, ride wrote, storing heat is a truly ancient and practical heating method. People used to put stones in the fire to heat them up during the day while the fire was in use for other things, and then overnight the stones would release the buildup heat to keep the area warmer.

This is very similar to using heating inside a concrete floor, heating the concrete. It helps keep the heat more stable in the environment. Using material as a heat sink really helps balance temperatures during the 24 hour temperature cycle. This is one of the reasons I love brick and stone buildings.

The, you know, when you get to. Thinking about how homes used to be built, and I’m talking about hundreds of years ago, where you would’ve had a central fireplace. Mm-hmm. in the center of the home, and the home would be built out of stone or brick, that there would’ve been no layers of insulation. You really would’ve been doing this on that scale of heating the home during the day with a fire roaring, and you’re cooking on that fire as well.

And then in the evening, the walls would’ve absorbed a certain amount of heat and would keep you comfortable enough. during the night. Yeah. And then you’d restart the process in the morning, and then at a certain point, we just start being able to produce heat out of. A furnace in a remote location, we move away from having a central fire in the home and it becomes at a certain point, I imagine when fuel is seen as being so affordable that it doesn’t matter that you are burning it constantly.

Yep. You end up with a different model, but now we’re trying to move back. And I wonder about how the, we usually talk about the technology as, as 99% of our conversation, but I wonder how is, how are these companies marketing this to consumers? Are there consumers, largely commercial consumers, or is there Yeah.

Any of this that is on a local individual home.

For the companies I talked about in this video, which was Bren, Miller and Rondo, they’re clearly focused on industry, so they’re, they’re focused on, you know, concrete production or any kind of like industrial process. They’re fo they’re largely focused on that as their way in and it makes sense because those are kind of the obvious.

First partners you’d wanna look for because they need this and it’s gonna be this cost effective solution for them. So it can, it’s a good way to get your company kind of a solid baseline footing of financing and then you can slowly start to roll out beyond that afterwards. I see this as the path for them, but for individuals, for us, for homeowners, there really isn’t anything.

A video I, I did a couple months ago, I think it was around phase change materials, and there’s a company that makes this phase change material that basically is storing. For hot water that is available for homeowners. Mm-hmm. . But like, that’s the really, the only thing I’ve seen that kind of technology.

It’s a very small scale, maybe for hot water. That kind of a thing. I have not seen anything that would be a, a major player that’s offering massive like heat batteries. But there are, like I know in Europe, this is another one of those things, Europe’s ahead of the United States like by a decade and a lot of home stuff.

But like for people who have boilers, which is very common over in Europe, there are these kind of heat battery kind of systems that can be tied into the boilers to make it more efficient over time. So, It’s not like it’s not available, but it’s still not mainstream. It’s still a little more niche even over there.

So yeah, it’s, I

wish there was more of this. In that vein, there’s this comment from Jason Broom who writes, in terms of residential energy consumption, roughly 20% goes to creating hot water, which goes right to your point about boilers, and more than 40% goes to heating the space in your home. This means any system energy capture and storage on a significant scale could meet about 60% of annual residential energy needs in the.

all of a sudden Hot rocks sound like a great idea. , I think it’s, it would be interesting to see what a, if a company, not necessarily one of the companies that you spoke about in your video, but if somebody was able to take this idea, are there ways of just thinking in terms of heat capture around a hot water heater or even in the pip.

that transmits the hot water through your house. I wonder if there are ways that maybe that heat could be captured to be, to hold onto it for a slower release over time, as opposed to you’re running your shower, the pipe gets hot, you turn off the shower, the pipe goes cold. I wonder, I’m just thinking off the top of my head there, what’s funny

is there’s a lot of people doing DIY solutions.

Mm-hmm. and experimenting around this in their own homes and building kind of crazy contraptions that are doing. But again, that’s a DIY thing. Not everybody’s a DIYer or knows how to do this. It’s like we need companies to kind of step up and, and rule this out. It it’s happening. Yeah. It’s just, in my opinion, not fast enough.

Also, the problem with DIY is unless you really know what you’re doing, DIY can be incredibly scary or dangerous. I have seen people who I greatly respect who are big di wires, the the people who are, who take something off of a screen door and say, well, I’m not gonna throw this away cuz I might be able to use this someday.

And then when I see how they use it, I’m like, if that spring releases, somebody’s gonna lose an eye. Like sometimes d i y is not what you want to. But yeah, it also could be a path to, sometimes it could be a path to a usage that actually would benefit more people, and it’d be interesting to see what some of those results might be.

There were also comments like this from Alan s, who wrote in Renews Sustainable House Day many years ago, a house in Adelaide. This Alan must be running from Australia, I believe. A house in Adelaide had a room full of rocks surrounded by thick insulation. In winter, they reheated by a simple solar air. In daytime that released heat into the well insulated and well designed house at night.

In the summer, they slowed down the temperature rise. They didn’t eliminate powered heating and cooling entirely, but reduced the need for it. Yeah. Sounds like a very basic rudimentary, like literally almost in response to Jason Broom, the previous comments are saying Hot rocks sound like a good idea.

Here are the hot rocks.


it’s, I mean, to tie into the. , previous comments you brought up. Uh, it’s like passive house design. One of the paths you can do is if you orient the house so that the sun is coming into the windows and you have a concrete floor, it heats the concrete floor over the day in the middle of winter, and then overnight that heat is then slowly radiating back out overnight.

So it helps to reduce, it doesn’t give you all, necessarily all the heat you need, but it helps to dramatically reduce how much heat you have to add to keep comfortable. So the idea of like storing heat in different forms in your home. Well established. It’s just not well used. , right? Especially here in the us, we don’t take any of this stuff into account.


also difficult when all the homes that exist already exist. and they all face the directions they face. Yeah. So it’s one of those things that if somebody is lucky enough to own a home already or find a home where they’re like, oh, if I just put a concrete floor in here, this room will be nice and toasty.

That’s fantastic. But mm-hmm. , many, many, many millions upon millions of homes already exist, and not everybody’s in a position where they’re going to build a home along the lines that you’ve described, which is, I mean, it’s just the nature of how the world works. Yep. There is also this comment from De Genie who is pushing you toward possibly another video Genie.

Wrights would love to see you cover the Thermo Electric Energy Storage and Conversion in one of your videos. Malta is a spinoff from Google’s Project X Division and is currently deploying the tech in the. Roundtrip efficiency is definitely not something to brag about, but with renewables getting dirt cheap through economies of scale and newer tech, the extremely low input cost of electricity more than makes up for the lower roundtrip efficiencies of thermal electric energy storage and conversion.

Yeah. Do you know much about thermal electric conversion in the ways that Genie is talking about? I’ve, I’ve

come across some of that and it’s, it’s the idea that, you know, you’re taking electricity, you’re turning it into heat, you’re storing it as heat, then you take it as heat and go back out to electricity again.

There’s kind of that round trip. We can take electricity and make it into heat pretty efficiently. Right. But getting heat back into electricity is not that efficient. Yeah, we’re not too great at that. So the, there’s definitely efficiency losses in here, but I, I’m definitely in agreement with him. Her not sure, but I’m definitely in agreement that I find efficiency kind of a red herring.

because it really comes down ultimately to costs. Yeah. Because , if an energy system is 60, 70% efficient, but it is dirt cheap to just flood extra energy in there, store it, coming back out, and, and the whole cost is less than a very efficient, let’s say lithium battery, which is 90 plus percent efficient, but it costs a third or a quarter of the amount of money.

Build and run. It’s like, uh, the less efficient option is great for right now. So it, it, it doesn’t make sense to Right. Make efficiency or your key indicator. It’s, it’s a part of the conversation, but it’s not the end of the conversation. But yeah, I, I, I do. It is something I could dive into more about the, how the efficiency losses impacted what companies have stuff, how it actually like sizes up against other options.

Right. That could be an interesting

video and economies of scale are a big part of that too. We’re talking about you. A solar farm or a wind farm that might be producing. Yeah. I think in this video you talk about how a wind farm in one location was creating Yes. So much excess energy that nothing was happening with.

Yep. So it becomes, well if you’re only recapturing 10% of that excess energy in some other electrodermal cycle, right. At least you’re using that 10.

Yeah, you, you may be losing an efficiency, but you’re, if you didn’t do this, you’re just wasting it. Right? So let’s at least get a use of 60% of it, you know, so it’s not going to complete waste.

Right. And on on, on that note, come back to the efficiency thing of it does make a lot of sense once it’s as heat to try to keep it as heat because it’s very efficient once you get into the heat energy and just basically you’re just moving it at that point. Mm-hmm. . I, I kind of partnered up with the YouTube channel City beautiful on this video, and they put out a whole video on district heating and like this technology plus district heating or like peanut butter and chocolate.

They kind of go together so well. So it’s like this excess energy is getting dumped into basically a heat battery and then it can be used to heat. Not just a home, but dozens or thousands of homes through a district heating system. It just is like amazing. Um, so I, I would again recommend checking out city Beautifuls video if you wanna learn more about district heating.

Cuz it’s like, it’s kinda like the, uh, once again face bomb. Well, duh. Why aren’t we doing this everywhere? And then when you find out. , wait. They are kind of doing it all over the place and you don’t even realize it. Like here in Boston, they’ve got it in New York City, like you’re walking around New York City, you see those big like tubes on the street with like steam coming out the top.

Mm-hmm. , that’s them letting steam, that’s leaking out of the district heating system in that area. Right. That’s, that’s what that is. So it’s like, It’s all underfoot, and it’s not sexy, but it’s like apart cities or around the world. Oh, it’s, it smells

wonderful. It’s, it brings out, you’re standing on the wonderful odor of New York, standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, and you’re caught in a cloud of excess steam

Mm. Nothing better. You know you’re gonna drag that in with you to the office when you get there.

Yeah. Well that’s an

ancient system, which is why an ancient system. And we had, we had one on 42nd street that exploded. There was a, there was a pressure, oh man. Build up in the system and it actually blew a hole in the street.

It was about, I wanna say 2017, 2018 maybe. Wow. It was definitely pre pandemic, and it was right outside Bryant Park. It was across the street from Bryant Park, right across the, the street from Bryant is the Grace Building, which is a famous building. And when it went off there, of course, were concerns of like terror attack, like, what was that?

And yeah, it, it caused quite a bit of panic, but it was just a power, uh, steam, a steam conduit for that kind of district. Um, In any event, thank you to Jeanie. Thank you to Alan. Thank you to Jason and dig Ride for the comments. As you can all tell, they really do drive the conversation here and I invite people to jump into the comments now and in response to Matt’s.

Earlier comment. These things are all around us. This kind of thermal capture of energy. Can you in the comments, share some places that you know this kind of technology is being used, or places where you think it might be able to be used in your communities? We’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever it was you found this podcast.

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