Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made a revolutionary discovery that could change the way renewable energy is stored. By combining cement, water and carbon black, the researchers have created a conductive nanocomposite that can act as a supercapacitor. This electrified cement could turn building foundations and roads into massive batteries, storing and releasing electrical energy much faster than traditional batteries.
The idea behind this innovation is to use the most common man-made material – cement – and combine it with soot, an ancient material that has been used for centuries. Carbon black has the unique property of forming wire-like tendrils in the cement that increase electrical conductivity. When a standard electrolyte is added, the modified cement becomes a supercapacitor capable of storing and releasing energy.
Currently, cement capacitors are relatively small, with enough power to light a few LED bulbs. However, the materials used are inexpensive and readily available, making them scalable. The researchers’ next step is to create a device the size of a car battery.
The potential applications of this technology are enormous. A house with a foundation made of supercapacitor cement could store enough energy to power the entire house for a day, utilizing renewable energy sources such as the sun or wind. In addition, this mixture can be used on roads to power electric vehicles as they drive along them.
Researchers envision a future in which these supercapacitors, similar to structural concrete, will be used to store bulk energy in residential and industrial applications. This discovery could change the way we think about how we store and use energy, from energy-active shelters to self-charging roads for electric vehicles.
Admir Masic, a materials scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, comments on the significance of this discovery, “You have materials that are at least two millennia old, and when you combine them in a certain way you get a conductive nanocomposite, and that’s when things get really interesting.”
The results of this study are published in the journal PNAS.