MIT researchers develop affordable supercapacitors


MIT researchers have studied and discovered that by mixing water with cement and carbon black – which is similar to very fine charcoal – a supercapacitor can be created. The resulting storage of electrical energy can be an alternative to batteries and might be suitable to be incorporated into the concrete foundation of a house. Here, it could store a full day’s worth of renewable energy in an affordable way while still providing the needed structural strength for the architecture of the house.


MIT professors Franz-Josef Ulm, Admir Masic, and Yang-Shao Horn, along with four others at MIT and at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, state that this technology might be able to facilitate the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and tidal power by allowing energy networks to remain stable despite fluctuations in renewable energy supply. The researchers also envision using the technology to generate a concrete roadway that recharges electric cars as they travel over that road.

mit supercapacitors water cement carbon
images by MIT researchers (full list of names below)



mixing water, cement, and carbon black can store energy


A capacitor is a simple device that can store electric charges, so supercapacitors, then, are a special type of capacitor that can store a lot more electric charge than regular capacitors. The key to making supercapacitors with higher power is by increasing the surface area of the conductive plates, or the surface where the electricity flows and is stored. MIT researchers have developed a supercapacitor without increasing the surface area of these plates by adding carbon black, which is a highly conductive material, to a cement mixture with water.


As the cement mixture cures, it forms a structure with lots of small spaces and branches. The carbon black flows into these spaces, creating a network of conductive wire-like structures within the hardened cement. This structure then gives the material a large surface area even if the volume of the mixture used is small. Then, the material is soaked in an electrolyte, a kind of salt solution, which provides charged particles. When two electrodes made from this material are placed together, separated by a thin space or insulating layer, they form a supercapacitor.

mit supercapacitors water cement carbon
the MIT supercapacitors made of water, cement, and carbon black can story and supply renewable energy



Supercapacitor that releases absorbed renewable energy


This supercapacitor that the MIT researchers uncovered in their studies can store a lot of electric charges and release them quickly when needed. It is like having a very powerful and efficient battery that can be charged and discharged rapidly. Supercapacitors made from this easy-to-create mixture may have the potential to play a significant role in the world’s transition to renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal power since these clean energy sources produce electricity at different times, which may not always match the times when we need the most power.


To address this issue, it is needed to store the excess energy generated by these renewable sources so that people can use them when demand is high. Supercapacitors may be an ideal vessel for this purpose because they can quickly store and release large amounts of energy. Since MIT researchers’ ingredients consist only of water, cement, and carbon black, they may be much more widely available and affordable, unlike traditional batteries that often rely on limited resources like lithium.


The researchers say that the initial uses might be for isolated homes, buildings, or shelters far from grid power, which could be powered by solar panels attached to the cement supercapacitors. The research team also includes postdocs Nicolas Chanut and Damian Stefaniuk at MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, James Weaver at the Wyss Institute, and Yunguang Zhu at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

mit supercapacitors water cement carbon
MIT researchers imagine a roadway that recharges electric cars as they travel over the road with their supercapacitor

mit supercapacitors water cement carbon
MIT researchers have developed a supercapacitor without increasing the surface area of conductive plates



project info:


name: Supercapacitors

institution: MIT
research team: Franz-Josef Ulm, Admir Masic, Yang-Shao Horn, Nicolas Chanut, Damian Stefaniuk, James Weaver, and Yunguang Zhu