Glass bricks generate electricity for buildings

Technology could revolutionise the way buildings are powered
24th August 2017

A startup from the University of Exeter has developed solar technology that fits neatly into glass blocks that could revolutionise the way buildings are constructed.

“We now have the capability to build integrated, affordable, efficient, and attractive solar technologies as part of a building’s architecture”

 

The researchers from the university’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Science developed an array of optical elements that focus sunlight on small solar cells. These are incorporated within the glass block during their manufacture and collect a large fraction of the light passing through the block, even when placed vertically. The modular design, called Solar Squared, is scalable and can be easily designed into buildings.

Build Solar has been set up by Professor Tapas Mallick and Dr Hasan Baig and Research Commercialisation Manager Jim Williams to commercialise the technology

“Buildings consume more than forty percent of the electricity produced across the globe,” said Dr Baig, who is based at the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall. “Deployment of standard solar technology is limited by the large area requirement and the negative visual impact. We wanted to overcome these limitations by introducing technologies that become a part of the building’s envelope. We now have the capability to build integrated, affordable, efficient, and attractive solar technologies as part of the building’s architecture, in places where energy demand is highest, whilst having minimal impact on the landscape and on quality of life.”

Tailored to fit

“Given that we have the know-how of the latest developments in solar, it’s simply about getting the right marriage between the product and the technology,” said Dr Baig. “We can tailor it to fit any product, working with the current manufacturing process rather than demanding a change to that process. In this way, we can slot into established manufacturing chains and product markets.”

There are, however, challenges to be overcome: “One of the issues is its dual function as both an architectural building product and an energy-generating product,” said Dr Baig. Solar Squared aims be cheaper than standard glass construction blocks plus the cost of electricity.

“I’m currently in discussion with the National Solar Centre and Building Research Establishment to explore opportunities to add these kind of novel products within the Building Information modelling platforms, which will make the product accessible to architects when designing our future buildings around the world,” said Dr Baig.

The team is currently looking for test sites to demonstrate the technology and actively seeking investment for their new start up at [email protected] and www.exeter.ac.uk/business/expertise/aedm/engineering/solar

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