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Researchers Build Concrete That Stores Solar Power

Researchers from the ETH Zürich have designed and built a prototype for a sinuous and micro-thin concrete roof using leading-edge fabrication methods.

The innovative formwork method has been tested and will be used for the first time in an actual construction project next year.

A research team headed by Arno Schlüter, Professor of Architecture and Building Systems and Philippe Block, Professor of Architecture and Structures, want to test the new and unique lightweight construction and combine it with adaptive and intelligent building systems.

The shell roof, which is doubly curved and self-supporting, consists of multiple layers. The inner concrete layer is covered by the insulation and  heating and cooling coils. The second, exterior layer envelops the roof in this concrete sandwich design. Microfine photovoltaic cells are installed on the roof itself.

Thanks to the technology and adaptive solar power exterior, the unit is eventually expected to produce more energy than it actually consumes, making it a sustainable residential option.

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Led by Dr. Tom Van Mele and Professor Philippe Block, the Block Research Group developed the building design and technique for the solar power roof. It was then tested on a full-sized prototype.

Professor Block said that the team has proved that it is possible to build a unique concrete shell structure using a flexible and lightweight formwork, therefore confirming that intricate concrete structures can be made without massive amounts of material waste.

He explained that because the Block Research Group developed the solar power system and built the prototype with assistance from industry partners, they now know that the approach will work at the NEST construction site.

Getting to this point took nearly four years, from the commencement of the project to the completion of the prototype, partly because Professor Block wanted certain industry partners involved in the development of the prototype. Next year he intends to construct the roof once more at the NEST building within eight to 10 weeks.

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