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Dead Sea Scrolls ink has concrete benefits

renewable energy carbon black

MIT professors have unveiled new research which shows cement and carbon black can have energy storage capabilities.

MIT professors Franz-Josef Ulm, Admir Masic, and Yang-Shao Horn have revealed a simple but innovative technology that could be a game-changer for energy storage.

Their research uncovered that cement and carbon black could facilitate stability in renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and hydrogen. In combination, they make a supercapacitor as an alternative to batteries.

The MIT research indicated that the supercapacitor could be incorporated into the foundation of a house where it could store energy in its foundations while maintaining structural strength. Another suggestion from the research was a concrete roadway that could provide contactless recharging for electric cars as they travel over that road.

“You have the most-used manmade material in the world, cement, combined with carbon black, a well-known historical material — the Dead Sea Scrolls were written with it,” Masic said.

“You have these at least two-millennia-old materials that when you combine them in a specific manner, you come up with a conductive nanocomposite, and that’s when things get interesting.”

The research revealed that for the foundation or structural elements of the base of a wind turbine, the “sweet spot” is around 10 per cent carbon black in the mix. However, there is a trade-off between increasing the supercapacitor with carbon black and the strength of the concrete.

Masic said the development had a huge upside, given that the materials were inexpensive and could be scaled for most projects.

“The water is systematically consumed through cement hydration reactions, and this hydration fundamentally affects nanoparticles of carbon because they are hydrophobic (water repelling),” he said.

“The carbon black is self-assembling into a connected conductive wire.”

Ulm agreed with the material’s ability to scale across several projects.

“You can go from 1-millimetre-thick electrodes to 1-meter-thick electrodes, and by doing so basically, you can scale the energy storage capacity from lighting an LED for a few seconds, to powering a whole house,” he said.

“So, it’s a multifunctional material.

“(It is a) new way of looking toward the future of concrete as part of the energy transition.”

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