Lancaster University scientists have developed a new smart cement that can store electrical energy and monitor its own structural health.
According to the researchers led by Professor Mohamed Saafi, the new cement mixture can be used to turn buildings, bridges, street lamps and even curb-stones into cheap batteries.
Composed of flyash and chemical solutions, the novel potassium-geopolymetric (KGP) composites are cheaper than the ubiquitous Portland Cement.
They are also easy to produce as conductivity is achieved by potassium ions hopping through the crystalline structure, helping manufacturers do away with complex or expensive additives.
Unlike other smart concretes that rely on expensive additives such as graphene and carbon nano-tubes resulting in large structures, the KGP composites rely on the diffusion of potassium ions within the structure to store electrical energy and to sense mechanical stresses.
The researchers contend that when the mixtures are fully optimized, they could potentially store and discharge between 200 and 500 watts per square meter.
Saafi opines that a house’s partition walls built with KGP could to store power during the day when empty and discharge it during the evening when the occupiers are home.
Other uses for the smart cement could include taking street lighting off-grid. According to the researchers, a typical street lamp post uses 700 watts each night.
On the contrary, a six-meter tall lamp post made with KGP could hold enough renewable energy to power itself throughout the evening.
KGP-based curb-stones could further store energy to power smart street sensors monitoring traffic, drainage and pollution.
Saafi asserts that other structures made with KGP could help store and release excess energy, smoothing demands on grids.
Another key benefit of the KGP mixture is that its self-sensing. Any change in mechanical stress, caused by things such as cracks, alters the mechanism of ion hopping through the structure and therefore the material’s conductivity.
These changes mean the structural health of buildings can be monitored automatically, by measuring conductivity, without the need for additional sensors.
The researchers are also working on optimizing the performance of these KGP mixtures so as to 3D print them into different architectural shapes.
Image credits and content: LifeofPix/Lancaster University