CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A University of Virginia engineering lab successfully finished a project for the U.S. Department of Energy that shows squid protein can be made into thermal batteries that would heat buildings.

The battery is made of a synthetic material that's derived from squid ring teeth protein, which are like squid fingernails.

"When they chip a nail, which is the same kind of nail they use to claw and grab their prey, that nail has to regenerate and reform very, very quickly for survival purposes, and it reforms very quickly in water," said UVA Professor Patrick Hopkins.

The lab discovered that when squid protein is dry, it absorbs heat, and when it's wet, it can release it. 

 "It would absorb water through the AC during the day and at night, it would release water as it evaporates and cools," said Emma Tiernan, a PhD candidate.

"Much like a battery where you store charge, we could have this brick of squid where you could store heat from the day and then release it anytime you want to offset electricity costs," Hopkins said.  

In its final product, Hopkins said the battery would be about the size of a shoebox.
"Ideally it won't affect your house at all. Right now, we have noticed that the squid will decompose after a few years. But, you know, research and development, you have to get through that," Tiernan said.

When asked how large a building this type of battery could power, Hopkins said “a bungalow in Belmont."

There would still be regular electricity in the home, but the battery would make up for some of it, either in heat or power.

This kind of technology won't become a reality for about five to ten years. The lab is now researching the cost and other feasibility factors.