Batteries and Carrots

Everything it seems runs on batteries and science has been working overtime to develop longer-lasting and easily rechargeable battery alternatives. But what if an entire building was a battery?

According to Professor Mohamed Saafi of Lancaster University’s Engineering Department in England, buildings, bridges, street lamps and even curbstones could be turned into cheap batteries.

How, you ask? The answer is in potassium-geopolymetric (KGP) cement mixtures. Using KGP composites, electricity is conducted via potassium ions that hop through the crystalline structure. Sounds simple, right?

It is easy to envision concrete buildings with rechargeable qualities, but think about other uses. Concrete lamp posts could be used to take street lighting entirely off-grid. Curb stones could store energy to power smart street sensors monitoring traffic, drainage and pollution, creating new possibilities for a street level internet of things in smart cities.

This isn’t Saafi’s first wild idea. He has also worked in collaboration with Cellucomp Ltd. UK to study the effects of adding “nano platelets” extracted from the fibers of root vegetables to enhance the performance of concrete mixtures.

That is correct. The vegetable-composite concretes, made from vegetables such as sugar beets or carrots, have structurally and environmentally out-performed all commercially available cement additives, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes, doing so at a much lower cost.

“The composites are not only superior to current cement products in terms of mechanical and microstructure properties, but also use smaller amounts of cement. This significantly reduces both the energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with cement manufacturing,” Saafi said.

Saafi is not some pie-in-the-sky dreamer. His research background is in structural integrity and materials. He has developed several structural integrity monitoring tools and is also conducting research activities in the durability of cementitious materials. In addition, he has studied the effect of climate change on critical infrastructure.

Will any of this lead to breakthrough developments in the area of construction materials? That remains to be seen. But the possibilities are very interesting indeed.

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