Published: August 17, 2017

Written by Tafline Laylin

There’s a new building block in town, and it generates its own clean energy. Researchers from Exeter University developed new glass blocks that are embedded with small solar cells. Not only do the blocks generate energy, but they also provide thermal insulation and allow natural light to enter buildings.

Called Solar Squared, the blocks are embedded during the manufacturing process with an array of optical elements that focus sunlight on tiny solar cells. The blocks are made to ensure maximum solar absorption, even in tricky urban areas.

“The modular design is completely scalable, and allows for seamless architectural integration,” according to an Exeter press release. “The streamlined nature of the technology enables it to be embedded in conventional construction materials, meaning that its applications are myriad.”

Professor Tapas Mallick and Dr Hasan Baig, along with IIB Research Commercialization Manager Jim Williams, hope their patent-pending design will revolutionize the construction industry.

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“Deployment of standard solar technology is limited by the large area requirement and the negative visual impact,” said Dr Baig from the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall. “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.”

There are challenges, though.

Dr Baig says it’s difficult to communicate how the building product serves a dual purpose, and that expectations of price should reflect the same. “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.”

For this reason, the group aims to ensure that Solar Squared will cost less than conventional glass blocks with the added cost of electricity. They are currently seeking test sites and investors – in case you know someone who can take this to the next level.