A smart and sustainable home prototype is being developed at the Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich, which will have a concrete roof that absorbs solar energy and transforms it into electricity.
Flexible, light and eco-sustainable. This is how the houses of the future will be, or at least this should be the direction to go. This is the reason for the research being carried out at ETH Zurich, Switzerland’s most prestigious university institute of technology and one of the most important research centers in the world. It is here that for several years they have studied materials and construction systems to develop buildings from a perspective of less environmental impact and greater energy efficiency. The home of the future, which is being developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is called HiLoand will be tested next year at the NEST laboratories in Dübendorf. The last piece of the prototype is a concrete roof that absorbs solar energy and transforms it into electricity.
Multilayer concrete roof that absorbs solar energy.
The concrete roof prototype is an ultra-thin, self-supporting and curved structure. How can a concrete roof generate energy? Thanks to a double layer: the first houses an insulation system and heating and cooling units, while the second, the external, has been installed with thin-film photovoltaic cells.
The result should be a home that produces much more energy than it consumes. However, talking about sustainability in buildings is not only about developing solutions that use renewable energy for energy production, but also about flexible and light systems, so that we can reduce all costs, including transport costs, linked to the play.
The solar-absorbing concrete roof prototype, built in six months in the ETH robotic laboratory and already dismantled to accommodate future experiments, was 7.5 m high and had a total area of 160 square meters. The concrete has an average thickness of 5 cm, which is reduced to 3 cm at the edges of the ceiling, while on the supporting surfaces it reaches 12 cm.
Cement that absorbs solar energy.
To achieve this particular shape it would have been necessary, according to usual practice, to use a wooden structure or a fresh and foamed wood that is not reusable, while the researchers chose to install a network of steel cables that stretched over a structure of reusable shelf. This network of cables is used to support a polymer fabric that also functions as a fastener for concrete.
Reduction in the amount of construction material.
This new method has saved a lot of money on construction materials and obtained a much more flexible solution that can be adapted to different types of design. And not only that: leaving the area under the roof completely free, you also have the possibility of carrying out work inside the rooms.
The network was designed to take the desired shape under concrete weight, thanks to a calculation method developed by the team of the Blocks Research Professor in collaboration with experts in Digital Fabrication from the Swiss National Center of Competence (NCCR). The algorithms ensure that the forces are distributed correctly between the individual SWR and that the cover can be of the desired design. The electrical network weighs only 500 kg and the fabric 300 kg, for a total of only 800 kg of material.
Not just the theory …
It has been shown that it is possible to build a thin and complex concrete structure with a light and flexible formwork – explained Block – that avoids unnecessary waste of material. Having worked with industry partners, we are confident that our method will work to achieve what will be our prototype for sustainable housing.
Here is the video presentation of the ultralight concrete roof prototype that absorbs solar energy: