CTT 1-3-2018-glass block

[Image above] Credit: University of Exeter

Behold the glass block!

This sturdy glass structure has been around since the late 1800s, when Gustave Falconnier, an early inventor of glass bricks, used a process to blow glass into a mold. Falconnier’s glass block has since been improved upon and used in architecture and construction. In the 1930s, they appeared in thirteen futuristic houses displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair.

Although very trendy in the 1980s, glass block’s popularity continues to ebb and flow. While there appears to be an ongoing debate as to the value and aesthetic of glass block, it looks like current designers are getting more creative with glass block for contemporary applications.

And in the U.K., solar energy scientists are now adding functionality to glass block. A collaboration between researchers from the University of Exeter and local business Glass Block Technology Limited has resulted in a novel way to turn glass blocks into solar energy generators. Solar Squared is a glass block product that can generate electricity while allowing more daylight into a building, according to a University of Exeter news release.

“Buildings consume more than 40% of the electricity produced across the globe,” Hasan Baig, research fellow and one of the collaborators, says in the release. “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.”

Solar Squared glass blocks contain 13 embedded solar cells to absorb sunlight. They also provide additional thermal insulation to a building. And, according to Baig, the product is “cheaper than standard glass construction blocks plus the cost of electricity.”

The solar cells can also be used in other construction materials that would be used on the exterior of buildings, Baig adds, by incorporating them into existing manufacturing processes. “We can tailor it to fit any product, working with the current manufacturing process rather than demanding a change to that process. In this way, we can slot into established manufacturing chains and product markets.”

Baig is currently looking to get Solar Squared products into the Building Information Modeling database to increase awareness among architects of the solar glass block’s potential applications and energy savings.

Perhaps one day the exteriors of office buildings and our homes will provide all the electricity we’ll need to power them.

Watch the video below to get a better look at the solar glass blocks.

Credit: Futurism; YouTube

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