Breakthrough in Renewable Energy Storage Technology

Researchers from MIT have developed a “supercapacitor” made from ancient and widely available materials that can efficiently store large amounts of energy. This energy storage system, constructed with cement, water, and carbon black (resembling powdered charcoal), has the potential to support the implementation of renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy, stabilizing energy grids despite natural fluctuations in output. The simplicity of this innovative design is highlighted in a recently published paper in PNAS authored by MIT professors Franz-Josef Ulm, Admir Masic, and Yang-Shao Horn, along with several other researchers from MIT and the Wyss Institute.

Traditional capacitors consist of two electrically conductive plates submerged in an electrolyte and separated by a membrane. When a voltage is applied, charged particles from the electrolyte collect on one of the plates, creating an electric field between them and allowing for efficient energy storage. Supercapacitors, on the other hand, have significantly higher energy capacity compared to traditional capacitors.

To create their supercapacitor, the researchers mixed cement powder, water, and carbon black to produce a cement-based material with an incredibly high internal surface area. This was achieved by introducing carbon black into the concrete mixture, which subsequently formed wire-like structures throughout the cured cement. These structures possess a fractal-like design, generating a vast surface area within a compact volume. Soaking the material in an electrolyte solution, such as potassium chloride, enabled the creation of powerful supercapacitor electrodes.

This breakthrough could lead to numerous applications, including homes with foundations made of this material that store a day’s worth of energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines. Additionally, it could be utilized for constructing roads capable of wireless charging for electric vehicles or as a component of energy-storing heating systems. With further development, this sustainable and versatile supercapacitor may play a crucial role in the global shift towards renewable energy sources.