The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Wednesday, 14 June 2017 01:00

German researchers have developed concrete that functions as a photovoltaic cell

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They used the principle of plant photosynthesis to create energy

A team of architects, scientists and designers at the University of Kassel, Germany, is working on a building material -called “DysCrete” - that will be able to transform sunlight into electricity. Using ordinary concrete as the base, they mix it with graphite so that it can conduct electricity. After it is hardened, the special concrete is coated with layers of titanium dioxide, organic liquid, an electrolyte and a transparent surface. The result of this combination is a dye-sensitized solar cell in which the concrete assumes the function of an electrode, while keeping its typical characteristics. The transformation of solar energy into electric power follows the principles of photosynthesis and the material is especially ecofriendly.

Even though this type of cell is not a new invention, it is the first time scientists are trying to incorporate them directly into construction materials such as concrete. The dye-sensitized solar cell or “Grätzel Cell” is an affordable alternative to the conventional silicon solar cell, and in the future, “DysCrete” is expected to be used in the construction of façades and innovative prefabricated wall systems. Although still in prototype stage, the project has already been supported by the German Federal Ministry for Housing and Development through a grant of 150,000 Euros. 

„DysCrete“ was developed within the interdisciplinary learning and researching platform „Bau Kunst Erfinden“ (“Building Art Invention”), led by Prof. Heike Klussmann, Head of Visual Art Studies at the University of Kassel, and Prof. Thorsten Klooster, project manager of the field. The research team is currently optimizing the coatings in order to achieve optimal efficiency when transforming solar energy.  Currant juice was originally used, and now other fluids are employed, aiming for an efficiency of approximately 2%.  Although this figure may seem small in comparison to efficiency levels of photovoltaic panels, the crucial point is that photovoltaic concrete would be used on much larger areas, and at much lower production costs, as the components of dye-sensitized solar cells are readily available, ecofriendly, and easily recycled, and their manufacturing costs are significantly lower than the cost for silicon solar cells. Last but not least, “DysCrete” reacts to diffused light, which would allow the photovoltaic concrete to be also used on North-facing walls exposed to low sunlight radiation, where it does not make sense to install traditional photovoltaic panels. 

Source: University of Kassel


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