Looking At The Structures That Define Us
The concept of electrified concrete is not new. In 1980, W. Hymer wrote a research paper outlining the advantages of allowing current to flow through concrete. These included: protecting against lightning, eliminating static electricity, environmental healing and radio frequency interference (Concrete Construction). Despite this, little research was done to develop the concept.
Researchers at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) have begun developing a concrete which allows electricity to flow freely through it. This “smart concrete” can be used to prevent ice from forming, detect micro-cracks, and create cyber secure buildings. The concrete is mixed using conductive aggregates, which allow current to flow freely through the concrete (Txchnologist). However, this technology is expensive, and would only be implemented on critical sections of road and for bridge decks. In these cases, the cost of implementing the system is overshadowed by the amount cities spend on repairs.
According to NRC’s Rick Zaporzan, “With a few tweaks, it can be used for developing a crack-detection system if it’s hooked up to proper sensors that can monitor and interpret that data”. In addition, the concrete could be used to block electromagnetic signals from entering or leaving, creating a cyber secure building. Rick Zaporzan claims that, “The concrete can also be used to protect extremely sensitive medical equipment, and that’s a huge application” (Txchnologist).
By allowing electricity to flow through concrete roads, vehicles will be able to “recharge” their batteries while driving. Researchers at Japan’s Toyohashi University of Technology have created a process, wherein current sent through concrete decks is able to power objects on the surface (so far they have used the electricity to light an incandescent bulb). Although the technology is in the early stages of development, it could be used to power electric cars, eliminating the need to pull over and recharge (Engadget).
In addition, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a 24km strip of road which is able to supply specially made buses with power. Metal plates embedded within the road surface create electromagnetic waves, which provide electricity to the batteries built into each bus. This system eliminates the need for overhead wires, and allows buses to use significantly smaller batteries (CTV News).
The concept is explained in this short video:
The possibilities for this product are seemingly endless. As cities begin to invest in smart infrastructure, more ideas will form, creating a much different world. Until then, however, it will remain a popular research topic for institutes around the globe.