Energy from Concrete

Research Themes: Energy, Structural Engineering, Materials

A TRL is a measure to indicate the matureness of a developing technology. When an innovative idea is discovered it is often not directly suitable for application. Usually such novel idea is subjected to further experimentation, testing and prototyping before it can be implemented. The image below shows how to read TRL’s to categorise the innovative ideas.

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Summary of the project

Concrete is seen as an unfavourable material with regards to high CO2 emissions due to the manufacturing process. The researcher is focused on using 3D printing in combination with concrete to make novel materials which could improve that image – by giving something back to society. In that discovery process he came up with a type of concrete that is very deformable. With 3D printing he created specially shaped holes inside of the concrete that makes the normally so solid concrete more flexible. This shape together with a special fiber added concrete mixture allows it to move when under pressure and without damage to the material. Time over time it will change shape when loaded. The holes are perfect for adding piezo-electric sensors which in turn can harvest any form of kinetic energy and transform it into electric energy. 
Although this type of concrete is not strong enough to be applied in structures where you need the solidity of the material such as a bridge. But in public buildings where you have a lot of pedestrians that make it a bit deformable or along the coastline as part of the concrete blocks that are used for the sea defense, he thinks it can work. Lab results on the kinetic harvesting capacity of the flexible concrete are promising. The biggest challenge will be how to connect this energy generating concrete to a grid or battery with all the wires sticking out. 

What's next?

The results on the energy capturing part are promising – the principle technology works. Currently the researcher is working on how to you optimize and how do you upscale. The researcher is also looking for industrial partners that are interested to collaborate. For instance on the electrical engineering part. Besides there are still some unknowns about the applicability of the technology in seawater conditions. For the concrete that will not be a problem but how will the metallic parts perform? Eventually the researcher is working towards doing pilot tests in a few years’ time.

Contribution to the Energy transition?

With regard to sustainability people think about replacing concrete with more green building materials but the researcher believes it is not possible on the short or medium term. So he thinks we should look for way to get things back form concrete. He thinks he can contribute to getting back more than we do now in terms of energy par example.