Cement has been in human use throughout history, and due to its binding nature, it is regarded as the backbone of the construction industry. But what if cement could be used to generate electricity?
A recent edition of the journal Nano Energy published the results from major breakthrough research conducted by engineers from Incheon National University, Kyung Hee University, and Korea University. The researchers have invented a cement-based composite (CBC) that can be used in concrete to develop electrical properties without affecting its structural performance.
The CBC was developed using carbon fibers that can also act as triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), a type of mechanical energy harvester. The structures made using concrete with this CBC can produce and also store electricity using external mechanical energy sources like footsteps, rain, waves, and wind.
Most of the electricity worldwide is generated by the burning of fossil fuels that are non-renewable, leading to rapid climatic changes witnessed by our planet like never before. However, these structures turned powerhouses will reduce energy consumption by about 40%.
To test its electricity-producing and storage capabilities, the researchers developed a lab-based structure and a CBC-based capacitor using the cement-based composite.
The required amount of carbon fibers was just 1% in a cement mixture to achieve the desired electrical properties. The current generated was also significantly less than the maximum level that can be resisted by the human body, ruling out the chances of electrocution in such structures.
Apart from its primary usage as an electricity generator and storage structure, the material could also be used to design self-sensing systems that monitor the structural health and predict the remaining service life of concrete structures without any external power.
Seung-Jung Lee, a professor at Incheon University, stated that the researchers were working towards developing a material that could have net-zero properties without needing any extra energy. He expects the cement-based composite to find wide-scale applications as the ultimate energy material in net-zero structures.