Concrete Buildings Could Double As Giant Batteries

Researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology have published a new concept for rechargeable batteries made of cement.

Researchers from the Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have published a new concept for rechargeable batteries made of cement.

The Independent reports that the concept could help build smart cities in the future, provide power to LED lights, help create 4G connections in remote areas, and power cathodic protection systems to prevent corrosion.

The research group believes they have succeeded in developing what is thought to be a world-first concept, which involves a cement-based mixture with small amounts of short carbon fibres added to increase the conductivity and flexural toughness.

Then a metal-coated carbon fibre mesh is embedded within the mixture – iron for the anode, and nickel for the cathode.

Dr Emma Zhang, who joined Professor Luping Tang’s research group several years ago, said: “Results from earlier studies investigating concrete battery technology showed very low performance, so we realised we had to think out of the box, to come up with another way to produce the electrode.

“This particular idea that we have developed – which is also rechargeable – has never been explored before. Now we have proof of concept at lab scale.”

The team has produced a rechargeable cement-based battery with an average energy density of 7 Watt-hours per square metre (or 0.8 Watt-hours per litre). Energy density is used to express the capacity of the battery, and an estimate is that the performance of the new Chalmers battery could be more than ten times that of earlier attempts at concrete batteries.

While the energy density is still low in comparison to commercial batteries, the limitations could be overcome thanks to the huge volume at which these batteries could be constructed when implemented into buildings.

The rechargeable quality of the battery is very important, as it means the possibilities for utilisation, if the concept is developed further and commercialised, is staggering, according to the team.

“It could also be coupled with solar cell panels, for example, to provide electricity and become the energy source for monitoring systems in highways or bridges, where sensors operated by a concrete battery could detect cracking or corrosion,” suggests Zhang.

The concept of using building and structures as rechargeable batteries could be revolutionary, as it offers alternative solutions to the energy crisis by providing large volumes of energy storage.

“Considering that any concrete surface could have a layer of this electrode embedded, we are talking about enormous volumes of functional concrete,” Zhang added.

The concept is still in its infancy, and there are many technical questions to be solved before commercialisation can be made a reality.

“Since concrete infrastructure is usually built to last fifty or even a hundred years, the batteries would need to be refined to match this, or to be easier to exchange and recycle when their service life is over,” said Zhang.

“For now, this offers a major challenge from a technical point of view.”

However, the researchers are hopeful that their innovation has a lot to offer.

“We are convinced this concept makes for a great contribution to allowing future building materials to have additional functions such as renewable energy sources,” said Professor Tang.

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