Concrete Batteries Could Make Future Buildings More Sustainable

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The Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden has published a paper outlining a new concept for cement-based rechargeable batteries. Developed by scientists affiliated with the university’s Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, the idea involves a high-rise concrete structure capable of storing energy like a massive battery.

The ever-increasing demand for future-proof building materials prompted Emma Zhang, a former university associate, to join Professor Luping Tang’s research group. The team has now created the first concept for a rechargeable cement-based battery of its kind.

A cement-based mixture is mixed with small amounts of short carbon fibers in the concept. According to the researchers, this improves conductivity and flexural toughness. The mixture is then embedded with a metal-coated carbon-fiber mesh – iron for the anode and nickel for the cathode. After extensive testing, the team stated that they had decided on the specific prototype.

According to Zhang, the very low-performance results of previous studies investigating concrete battery technology forced them to think outside the box and develop a new method of producing the electrode. “This particular concept – which is also rechargeable – has never been explored before. We now have proof of concept at the lab scale, “Zhang elaborated.

Tang and Zhang’s research resulted in a rechargeable cement-based battery with an energy density of 7 Wh per square meter on average (or 0.8 Wh per liter). The energy density of a battery is used to express its capacity, and a conservative estimate suggests that the performance of the new Chalmers battery could be more than ten times that of previous concrete battery attempts. According to the researchers, the energy density is still low when compared to commercial batteries. They did, however, add could overcome that limitation due to the large volume. At which the battery could be built when used in buildings.

The fact that it can recharge the battery is its most important feature. The researchers believe that if the concept is further developed and commercialized, the possibilities for application are almost limitless. The researchers envision applications such as powering LEDs, 4G connections in remote areas, and cathodic protection against corrosion in concrete infrastructure.

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

According to the experts, the concept of using structures and buildings in this manner could be revolutionary because it would provide an alternative solution to the energy crisis by providing a large volume of energy storage.

Concrete, which combines cement and other ingredients, is the most commonly used building material on the planet. Although concrete is far from ideal in terms of sustainability, the researchers believe that adding functionality could add a new dimension.

“We envision that in the future, this technology will enable entire sections of multi-story buildings to be made of functional concrete. Given that any concrete surface could have a layer of this electrode embedded in it, we’re talking about massive amounts of functional concrete, ” Zhang concluded on a positive note.

According to the researchers, the concept is still in its early stages before commercializing the technique and addressing technical issues.
“Because concrete infrastructure is typically built to last fifty or even hundred years, batteries would need to be refined to match this or to be easier to exchange and recycle when their service life is up. For the time being, this presents a significant technical challenge, “Zhang went on to explain.

While these technologies are cutting-edge, a new joint study published by the European Patent Office and the International Energy Agency emphasizes the need to accelerate innovation in clean energy technologies to meet climate goals. According to the report, clean energy innovation slowed between 2017 and 2019, growing at a rate of 3.3 percent on average. According to the study, this progress is only a quarter of the average annual growth rate recorded a decade ago (+12.5 percent for 2000-13).

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