Innovation at SPECIFIC

By Laura Penney 13 January 2017

SPECIFIC’s innovative solution to the energy trilemma combines generate, store and release technologies under one roof, turning buildings into power stations. This is achieved through our open innovation approach and relies on engineers, scientists and businesses working together to develop and test potential world-class technology. We consider ourselves ‘technology agnostic’, which means that we work with the most promising technologies to find ways to manufacture them at scale. The innovation is not just in the way we work and the individual technologies we research; it is the way they are integrated into one smart system.

At SPECIFIC, we have our own pilot production plant to scale up lab scale research. It is a vital stepping-stone in the development of our novel coatings, as they mature from lab samples into real products, and it is also a proving ground for the new industry and the manufacturing systems that will drive their commercial success.



Currently we have researchers working on four distinct solar cell technologies: perovskites, CZTS (copper, zinc, tin, sulphur), organic photovoltaics and dye sensitised solar cells. SPECIFIC works closely with the Sêr Solar team, a £6million project funded by the Welsh Government’s Sêr Cymru programme. 

Sêr Solar is led by Professor James Durrant (Swansea University / Imperial College London), along with Professor Jenny Nelson (Imperial College London) and Professor Dave Worsley (Research Director, SPECIFIC). The aim of Sêr Solar is to create a solar energy research centre to deliver world leading scientific research and to support the growth of new solar industry in Wales. Co-located with SPECIFIC, the Sêr Solar team and SPECIFIC project work closely together. 

SPECIFIC scales up Sêr Solar research ideas using their Pilot Line capabilities to develop scalable solar applications with a view to creating clean, green high value products of a global standard into a reality. The collaboration between academia, industry, research and students progresses research from the laboratory bench to the factory. Applications of photovoltaic technology include integrating photovoltaic cells into the fabric of the roof of a building. Integrating the cells into a lightweight panel at this stage cuts down on manufacture time and cost and increases aesthetic appeal.

Recent research breakthroughs at SPECIFIC have included annealing a perovskite solar cell in 2ms using photonic curing. Commercial impacts of the research mean that the annealing step can be done as part of a continuous reel-to-reel manufacturing process. This significantly reduces energy consumption as well as manufacturing costs and supports rapid entry into market. Another success has been our team developing a novel conducting laminate used with a new design for solar cells. The conductive layer of gold that is expensive and difficult to apply was replaced with a nickel grid that is stuck down using a new material based on common tile adhesive. The new design reduces manufacturing costs and production time using earth abundant materials.


One example of our storage technologies is the inter-seasonal heat storage system. This stores the thermal energy captured during the summer ready to release it when needed - in the winter. Our first full building-scale demonstration has been constructed at our Solar Heat Energy Demonstrator (SHED) building in Margam. Tata Steel Colorcoat Renew Transpired Solar Collector (TSC) is perforated cladding that is fitted onto the building skin.

The heat harvested by the TSC is drawn in through the perforated cladding by a fan and the excess heat is stored in a thermochemical material (SIM – Salt in Matrix). When moist air is passed over the SIM, this causes a reversible exothermic reaction that releases the heat from the salt matrix that is used to heat the room.


We have developed an innovative use for functional coatings to release heat. The coating is applied to a steel substrate and fitted to the surface of a standard raised access floor tile, used in office buildings up and down the country. It has significant advantages over current heated floor systems, primarily quicker installation and more dynamic, localised area control. 

One of our partners Permaflor (a raised access floor manufacturer), has installed our heated floor tiles in their building and will be taking the product into manufacture going forward. The tiles are easily and cheaply installed and provide zone-able heating saving on heating costs and providing flexibility for building occupants that like their part of the room at different temperatures.

Systems Integration – a building as a power station

Though these technologies are all innovative in themselves, it is combining them that is the true innovation. Our first building as a power station, the Pod proved the concept was possible. This was developed further with the low carbon, energy positive SOLCER House, built in partnership with Cardiff University.   

In 2016, we completed construction of the Active Classroom in just 14 weeks, bringing together over 20 project partners in the fields of construction, systems management, engineering and sustainability to create a smart demonstrator building. The huge collaborative undertaking provided many learning points along the way with companies given the opportunity to see how their new building techniques and products would be installed and function in a real life environment. 


This innovative approach to design not only gave the opportunity for a real life test facility for new products, it enabled the new products and techniques to be tested as a complete system as well – as a building as a power station.

As an Innovation and Knowledge Centre, SPECIFIC strives to be innovative in all areas of development. We co-locate academics and industrialists to support a paradigm shift in how we resolve the energy trilemma. We collaborate extensively to introduce as many ideas into the mix as we can. We use and develop new techniques to further our research and commercialisation using our purpose built labs and pilot line. We combine cutting edge technology both available and under development and new methods of construction. We engage in the vision of working towards a circular economy and understand the importance of training and development of people entering a new renewable based industry. Innovation is at the heart of SPECIFIC.    


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Baglan Bay Innovation Centre,
Central Avenue
Port Talbot,
SA12 7AX.

T: +44 (0)1792 606867

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