Intelligent exteriors to generate electricity and heat

A new international research project will develop functional building exteriors intended for the mass market to produce electricity and heat, it has been announced.

The German-based project, called ‘Large-Area Fluid Windows’, plans on creating new glass components for buildings’ exteriors that will automatically adjust the light coming in and will harvest exterior heat, which will then be sent to a heat pump.

According to Dr Lothar Wondraczek, a leading researcher of the project, this will be made possible by combining two glass layers, one made from a very thin, tensile-strength cover glass and one layer of structured glass.

"This structured glass contains micro-fluid channels through which a functional fluid circulates,” explained Dr Wondraczek.

The initial stage of the project involves laboratory testing of such exteriors and window modules in order to optimise the materials and their functional interaction. Depending on their results, the scientists plan on testing these under ‘real’ conditions.

"As of today, there is no production process for such large-sized glass sheets with integrated micro-structures. Moreover, the new glass façades have to be able to be integrated into conventional window systems," said Dr Wondraczek.

The less likely scenarios such as windows made of photovoltaic modules or in which micro algae are being bred to provide a house with its own biofuel could be feasible if more effort is directed towards the improvement and development of functional materials, according to Dr Wondraczek.

“Only a fraction of this potential has been tackled so far, as the relevant materials and production processes are still missing,” he added.

"This requires close collaboration of architects, materials researchers, and civil and construction engineers.”

A total of 14 organisations are part of the project, out of which three are universities and 11 industrial companies from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic and Germany.

The European Commission will fund the initiative with €6m as well as the partaking companies, which will contribute a total of €2.1m. Energy-efficient buildings are one of the key strategic areas that the European Commission intends to develop.  

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