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Building greener homes

Words by Hannah Bird
1 December 2022

Renewable energy sources may suffer from unreliability of supply. Supercapacitors are devices that can store a large amount of electrical energy and today are commonly used when energy storage with high-power delivery, reliability, efficiency and lifetime is required. Integrated into building infrastructure, they could prove a novel way to increase residential energy storage to aid peaks and troughs in supply and demand. However, supercapacitors have low energy density, meaning that they are large and require considerable space, therefore they haven’t been considered as a viable alternative to batteries in densely populated areas where real estate is at a premium.

Now, a team of researchers at the United Nations University, Technische Universität Dresden and Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany, has investigated the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of a prototype supercapacitor that is combined with carbon-reinforced concrete to create a multifunctional building façade in the outer curtain wall of a building. This spatially conservative approach illustrates how sustainability practices, resource efficiency and energy storage can be harmonised with modern infrastructure.

Carbon-reinforced concrete has higher endurance than standard concrete, making it a significant component of the prototype given that the concrete and cement industries contribute ~8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, supercapacitors have a longer lifespan (80 years) compared to lithium-ion batteries (20 years for those designed for building-integrated energy storage), meaning millions more energy cycles are facilitated. The team uses life-cycle assessments to guide the design process of minimising carbon emissions from conception through to installation in homes, calculating a 20-fold decrease in greenhouse gas emissions using supercapacitors compared to lithium-ion batteries, which are the “current benchmark for residential energy storage”.

The protype is currently not available for market release, with the authors stressing: “It is an invention, not yet an innovation.” Yet, this provides hope for change in sustainability-oriented infrastructure in the future.

Hannah Bird

DETAILS: Build. Environ. 109520, (2022, In Press); 

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