Solar and other sustainable sources of energy have reached mainstream levels, allowing consumers a range of options to reduce their carbon footprint. With this in mind, seamlessly integrating the technology into the urban fabric has become the next challenge for researchers. Innovators are not only exploring different types of materials to work with, they are also looking at the aesthetic configuration aspect of the technology.

Using Lightweight Concrete

Concrete is just one material that has been tapped for this purpose. Through the research efforts of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), another purpose has been developed for this basic building material. For several months, researchers at the institute’s Robotic Fabrication Lab worked on the technology and eventually came up with a prototype that utilizes lightweight concrete roofing to harvest heat from the sun and transform it into solar energy.

Instead of a thick concrete roof, the researchers created a thin concrete sheet which is integrated with heating and cooling components. At 7.5 meters high, the roof curves and arches to cover a surface area of around 160 sq.m. The thickness of the concrete ranges from 3 to 12 cms in certain locations. In between the concrete layers, there are thin sheets of various components including polymer fabric which served as the base when spraying the concrete onto the form. Even the spray process has been carefully planned and designed. The researchers noted that building materials have a reusable quality since parts of the structure can be reused for other purposes.

Calculated Algorithm For An Accurate Form

Before the assembly of these concrete layers, high tension cables are stretched and formed according to specifications. The allocation of concrete material is based on exact calculated algorithms to ensure the specified form and shape is achieved in the process. The Block Research Group collaborated with ETH Zurich in determining the unique construction algorithms for the concrete roof. As an important component, photovoltaic cells are integrated into the curved concrete form to complete the process.

After building the prototype, ETH Zurich hopes to use the lightweight construction technology in a proposed apartment building project. The concrete add-on will be integrated into the NEST HiLo, a rooftop unit for the Empa living facility. Empa, the Zurich-based institute is involved in materials development and research. Part of their innovative work focuses on the future of building design technology. As an innovative project, the NEST HiLo has to fulfill an energy requirement, which means it should generate rather than utilize more energy for the facility.