MIT Engineers Build An Energy-Storing Supercapacitor From Ancient Materials

The technology could be incorporated into concrete foundations of buildings

By Carandbike Team


3 mins read


Published on August 6, 2023

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  • MIT engineers have developed a new energy storage system using cement and carbon black.
  • Combining the conductive carbon black into cement, offers an extremely high internal surface area, providing efficient energy storage capabilities.
  • It has a potential to power isolated homes or buildings, and roadways far from the grid using solar panels connected to the cement supercapacitors.

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have made a discovery, creating a new energy storage system from two oldest materials: cement and carbon black. This supercapacitor, combined with water, has the potential to revolutionize renewable energy storage for sources like solar, wind, and tidal power.


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Capacitors, simple devices with two electrically conductive plates separated by an electrolyte, can store electrical energy efficiently. The MIT researchers leveraged this principle to develop a cement-based material with an internal surface area, achieved by introducing carbon black into the concrete mixture. The resulting nanocomposite has a dense, interconnected network of conductive material, providing an ideal structure for energy storage. 


According to the team, the supercapacitor could be incorporated into the concrete foundation of a house, enabling it to store an entire day's worth of energy while adding minimal cost and maintaining structural integrity. Furthermore, they envision using this technology to create concrete roadways that offer contactless recharging for electric vehicles as they travel.


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"This technology is extremely promising because cement is ubiquitous," said MIT professor Franz-Josef Ulm. Unlike conventional batteries that rely on materials like lithium (with limited supplies), the cement-based supercapacitors can be produced cost-effectively and at scale.


The team calculated that a 45-cubic-meter block of nanocarbon-black-doped concrete could store about 10 kilowatt-hours of energy, equivalent to the average daily electricity usage of a household. With the ability to charge and discharge rapidly, these supercapacitors outperform traditional batteries.


The team determined the optimal ratios of cement, carbon black, and water through various tests. They processed by creating small supercapacitors, similar in size to button-cell batteries, with a capacity to hold a 1-volt charge. Connecting three of these capacitors illuminated a for larger versions they are starting with ones comparable to a typical 12-volt car battery, and eventually scaling up to a 45-cubic-meter version to demonstrate its ability to store power equivalent to that of a house


Initial applications of this technology may include isolated homes, buildings, or shelters far from grid power, powered by solar panels connected to the cement supercapacitors.


The carbon-cement supercapacitors can also be used to build roadways that could store energy along with solar panels to and transfer the energy to electric vehicles on the road.


Ulm emphasized that the system is highly scalable, with energy-storage capacity directly proportional to the volume of the electrodes. Depending on the application's requirements, the mixture can be adjusted to achieve desired properties.


The researchers plan to further develop and demonstrate the technology with larger versions of the supercapacitors, moving towards practical applications in various energy storage scenarios.


The findings of this groundbreaking research were published in the journal PNAS, authored by MIT professors Franz-Josef Ulm, Admir Masic, and Yang-Shao Horn, alongside other researchers from MIT and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. The work was supported by the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, sponsored by the Concrete Advancement Foundation.



Written by: Ronit Agarwal


Last Updated on August 6, 2023

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