A new technology promises to radically expand energy storage potential in the home or office by transforming structural materials such as walls and device casings into super capacitor batteries.

Engineers from Vanderbuilt University have developed a new form of super capacitor which is capable of serving as both an energy storage medium and a structural building material.

Electricity can be stored directly in the structural super capacitor material, which is also sturdy and resilient enough to be employed as the casing of a smart phone, the chassis for an automobile, or even the walls of a residential or office building.

“These devices demonstrate – for the first time as far as we can tell – that it is possible to create materials that can store and discharge significant amounts of electricity while they are subject to realistic static loads and dynamic forces, such as vibrations or impacts,” said Cary Pint, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Vanderbilt University.

Cary PintThe super capacitor consists of a thin grey wafer of silicon electrodes. Its inner surfaces are pitted with nanoscale pores which are created via a chemical treatment process.

The secret to the ability of the super capacitor to both store energy while retaining enough strength to serve as a structural material lies in these nanoscale pores. The pores are capable of storing energy by gathering together electrically-charged ions, as opposed to traditional batteries which are dependent upon other chemical reactions.

While Pint and his colleagues at Vanderbilt have long engaged in the development of powerful super capacitors, their current research marks the first time they’ve tested the ability of the material to fulfil a structural function while withstanding realistic mechanical stresses.

The material has proven capable of performing remarkably well under conditions of duress. It is capable of both storing and discharging larger amounts of power than its commercial peers, even when subjected to vibrational accelerations of over 80 G and stresses of up to 44 psi.

“In an unpackaged, structurally integrated state, our super capacitor can store more energy and operate at higher voltages than a packaged, off-the-shelf commercial super capacitor, even under intense dynamic and static forces,” said Pint.

The resilience of the super capacitor means it could be used as a mechanical component in the walls of homes and offices, enabling the very structure of the buildings themselves to act as batteries for indoor lighting and electrical devices.

Pint sees immense potential in the new material, as it could result in the conversion of millions of tonnes of inert structural building materials into energy storage systems.

This could in turn significantly further the deployment of solar and wind power facilities by providing them with ample storage capacity for the alternating periods when they generate either a surfeit or deficit of energy.