Researchers have developed a concept for a rechargeable battery based on cement—a world-first such concept that they suggest could one day turn buildings into giant energy storage facilities.
The proof of concept at lab scale is an idea in its early stages, and it has challenges to overcome. But one day, the researchers in Sweden say, rechargeable cement-based batteries could result in future building materials which will have additional functions such as energy storage, 4G connections in remote areas, or cathodic protection against corrosion in concrete infrastructure.
Research from the Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, outlined a new concept for rechargeable batteries which are made of cement. The concept, published in the scientific journal Buildings, includes a cement-based mixture with small amounts of short carbon fibers added to increase the conductivity and flexural toughness. The researchers then included metal-coated carbon fiber mesh in the cement-based mixture. In this mesh they picked iron and zinc as anodes, and nickel-based oxides as cathodes. The conductivity of cement-based electrolytes was modified by adding short carbon fibers.
“The energy density is still low in comparison to commercial batteries, but this limitation could be overcome thanks to the huge volume at which the battery could be constructed when used in buildings,” the Chalmers University of Technology said in a statement.
The most important quality of the concept cement-based battery is that it is rechargeable, the researchers say. Potential applications of such batteries could be in energy storage, powering LEDs, or providing 4G connections in remote areas.
“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,” said Doctor Emma Zhang, formerly of the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology, and now Senior Development Scientist at Delta of Sweden.
The concept developed at a lab scale still has many challenges to overcome to become a viable approach to solving the world’s energy storage problem in the energy transition and the push for smart cities that could conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.
According to the researchers themselves, there are many technical issues in the concept that should be solved before the idea of rechargeable cement-based batteries could move to the stage of commercialization.
The extension of the service life of cement-based batteries and the development of techniques for recycling them are the key technical questions that need to be solved if the concept can work in real life, the scientists say.
“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. For now, this offers a major challenge from a technical point of view,” Emma Zhang said.
Still, the researchers believe that their innovative concept battery could contribute to the future of construction and energy where the buildings act not only as structures but also as energy storage.
“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 Luping Tang, Professor at the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology.
If the university’s novel concept of a cement-based battery could be advanced beyond a proof of concept in lab conditions, it could one day lead to not only energy-efficient but energy-generating buildings that could help emission reduction goals and power the future smart cities.