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Startup embeds solar cells and focusing optics into construction glass blocks

Startup embeds solar cells and focusing optics into construction glass blocks

Spun-out from the University of Exeter's College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Science, young startup Build Solar aims to commercialize a novel type of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) by 2018.

A team of researchers including professor Tapas Mallick, Dr Hasan Baig and IIB Research commercialisation manager Jim Williams has embedded several small solar cells with dedicated solar concentrator optics into square glass blocks that could replace plain glass blocks used in construction.

To be commercialized as "Solar Squared" blocks, the units are designed to not only generate electricity while allowing greater amounts of daylight in, they are also anticipated to provide improved thermal insulation. The modular design is completely scalable and allows for seamless architectural integration. The arrayed optical elements and solar cells are incorporated within the glass block during their manufacture, they are able to collect a large fraction of diffuse components of sunlight, even when placed on the vertical plan, making it particularly useful for capturing solar energy in urban areas.

Solar Squared was developed by the Exeter team through a collaborative project involving feedback and insight offered by Cheshire-based Glass Block Technology Ltd and a number of creative businesses in Cornwall.

According to Dr Baig, communicating the value of multifunctional building integrated photovoltaic products is challenging. People tend to make comparisons with standard solar panels found on roof tops but it's necessary to also include the value of the underlying building material in order to quantify the value proposition. With Solar Squared, Build Solar aims to offer a cheaper combined solution than standard glass construction blocks plus the cost of electricity.

Dr Baig is in discussion with the National Solar Centre and Building Research Establishment to explore opportunities to add the energy-harvesting glass block within Building Information modelling platforms, which will make the product accessible to architects.

The startup is actively seeking investment and looking for test sites to demonstrate the effectiveness and potential of Solar Squared.

Build Solar - www.buildsolar.co.uk

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