Researchers at MIT, led by Damian Stefaniuk, have developed a groundbreaking material that could revolutionize energy storage. By combining water, cement, and carbon black—a highly conductive material commonly used in car tires—Stefaniuk and his team created a supercapacitor with the potential to significantly impact renewable energy storage.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, supercapacitors are not ideal for long-term energy storage but excel at rapid charging and discharging. This makes them an intriguing complement to conventional batteries. The novel carbon-cement supercapacitor developed by Stefaniuk’s team could alleviate pressure on the electrical grid by providing efficient storage solutions for green energy, which often fluctuates throughout the day.

“If it can be scaled up, the technology can help solve an important issue — the storing of renewable energy,” Stefaniuk told the BBC. The applications are vast. For example, roads made from this innovative material could wirelessly charge electric cars, reducing the need for traditional charging stations. Moreover, buildings constructed with carbon-cement supercapacitors could have walls, foundations, or columns that not only support the structure but also store energy within them.

Currently, the proof-of-concept supercapacitor can only store enough energy to power a 10-watt LED for 30 hours. Supercapacitors tend to discharge quickly and are less energy-dense than lithium-ion batteries, presenting significant challenges for the research team. Despite these hurdles, Stefaniuk is optimistic about scaling up the technology. The team plans to build a larger version, capable of meeting the daily energy needs of a residential house.

Scaling up the technology is no small feat. “Often, new discoveries are problematic when considerations are made to move from lab or bench scale to wider deployment at larger scales and volumes,” explained Michael Short, an engineering professor at Teesside University. Challenges include manufacturing complexities, resource scarcities, and underlying issues with physics or chemistry.

While still in its infancy, the carbon-cement supercapacitor represents a promising step forward in the quest for efficient, scalable renewable energy storage solutions. If successful, this innovation could play a crucial role in the transition to a more sustainable energy future.

By Impact Lab