scale-up the next generation of technologies

Specific’s vision is underpinned by expertise in a range of technology areas including functional coatings, photovoltaics, solar thermal, heat and electrical storage.

While our demonstrator buildings use existing, full-scale technology to prove the Active Buildings concept, our research and technology teams are working to develop and scale-up the next generation of technologies, which will feed into future industry.

Areas of Expertise

Printed Photovoltaics

For photovoltaics to succeed they must move quickly from the lab bench to the factory floor. At SPECIFIC we are developing a range of solar cell technologies and processing techniques that will allow high-efficiency thin-film photovoltaics to be manufactured at scale using earth-abundant, low cost materials. We are also working to understand the stability and lifetime of these devices, by characterising their degradation mechanisms and finding ways to improve longevity.

For photovoltaics to succeed they must move quickly from the lab bench to the factory floor. At SPECIFIC we are developing a range of solar cell technologies and processing techniques that will allow high-efficiency thin-film photovoltaics to be manufactured at scale using earth-abundant, low cost materials. We are also working to understand the stability and lifetime of these devices, by characterising their degradation mechanisms and finding ways to improve longevity.

We consider ourselves ‘technology agnostic’, which means that we work with the most promising photovoltaic technologies to find ways to manufacture them at scale. Currently we have people working on four distinct technologies: perovskites, CZTS (copper, zinc, tin, sulphur), organic photovoltaics and dye sensitised solar cells.

Contacts:

Solar THermal

SPECIFIC is researching state of the art of solar thermal energy generation by installing technologies that use different methods of heat abstraction from the environment. Our research is based on direct and diffuse solar radiation (separate and combined), unique air source thermal capture and the conversion of the captured energy into usable forms for our connected technologies.

To this end the project will benefit from a significant solar array installation at the SHED in Margam, which will allow the capture and monitoring of solar energy via multiple absorber technologies in multiple installation elevations. With information about the performance of each technology in different environmental conditions, the team can develop a prediction tool for energy delivery, which will inform a Building’s Management System. The building management system can then define how a building uses the expected heat energy, whether in sensible, latent or thermochemical heat storage or directly in immediate space heating.

Understanding the mechanism by which the renewable solar energy can be modified into each of these forms, and the associated efficiency of the conversion can further allow SPECIFIC to understand the real value of the captured energy to maximise the financial performance as well as the functional and thermal performance.

PHOTOVOLTAICS THERMAL (PVT)

Traditionally photovoltaics or solar thermal devices are used on the roof elements of a building, so as the building volume increases via additional floors or the energy demand increases due to its design aims, there is a limited area available for these systems. This competition for roof space between photovoltaic and solar thermal devices means that effective combined systems, whereby both the thermal and the photovoltaic energy collected is of interest, will help significantly with meeting the building’s energy demands. In addition to this, if the vertical elevations can be used effectively for energy capture then this further improves the possibilities of the building being a net generator.

SPECIFIC is investigating combined photovoltaic and thermal generation systems on its demonstrator buildings, such as the Active Office. When combined with effective storage of both the thermal and electrical energy, this begins to realise the vision of ‘buildings as power stations’.

THERMO-ELECTRIC GENERATION (TEG)

Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) are devices that exploit the Seebeck effect – a phenomenon in which temperature difference produces a voltage difference between two electrical conductors – to generate an electrical current.

Around one sixth of energy generated for use in industry is emitted as waste heat, of which nearly 15% is economically viable for recovery, thus providing a commercial as well as environmental impetus for recovering industrial waste heat. This, combined with the potential for domestic waste heat recovery and even the micro-harvesting of human body heat to power personal consumer electronics, means that large area, flexible and printed thermoelectric generators could contribute significantly to energy efficiency and carbon reduction targets.

Until recently the majority of thermoelectric materials studied with promising ZT values (a measure of efficiency of heat conversion) have been based on alloys of elements like Bismuth, Tellurium, Antimony and Lead, some of which are toxic and/or rare. Researchers are increasingly turning their attention to organic materials as they are abundant, light-weight, flexible, solution-processable and low-cost, making large area printed devices a possibility. This makes waste heat recovery from large scale industry possible, as well as more bespoke applications such as wearable TEGs to power consumer electronics. In addition, two properties of organic conductors and semiconductors make them extremely promising as efficient thermoelectric materials: firstly, the thermal conductivity of organic materials is low (< 1 W m-1 K-1); secondly, organic conductors such as PEDOT:PSS are now achieving metal-like conductivity through process modification and doping. This means that organic materials could potential achieve high ZT values.

Thermoelectric material research at SPECIFIC involves organic, inorganic and hybrid materials that can be printed or solution processed. The ultimate goal is to manufacture building scale thermoelectric systems to utilise waste heat from buildings and industrial structures.

Contact: Dr Matt Carnie

ELECTRICAL STORAGE (LOW COST BATTERIES)

Research into building scale electrical storage systems has been widely overlooked within the UKs innovation landscape where the focus has been, and currently is, on portable batteries (mobile phone) and automotive. The requirements for building-scale storage systems are different and, as such, SPECIFIC and Swansea University aims to take technologies from their embryonic state to scale up through to advanced technological demonstrators. This will significantly shorten the path to the wide spread availability of self-sufficient, self-powered and off-grid buildings into the UK housing market.

SPECIFIC’s work in electrical energy storage includes the development of:

  • Next generation alkali/alkaline earth metal-ion energy storage technologies;
  • Novel EZ Steel Battery Chemistries and;

All are all devoted to high energy density secondary batteries and each devoted to a technology but cross-linking in many aspects (e.g. efficient metal electroplating). All research areas aim to benefit from each other advances and is complemented by studies into the integration and control of electrochemical storage into buildings.

HEAT STORAGE (DIURNAL & INTER-SEASONAL)

Thermal Storage Research at SPECIFIC aims to greatly enhance UK research and development in heat storage as an off-grid gas replacement technology. We are currently working on diurnal (day to night) and inter-seasonal (summer to winter) thermal storage.

Our inter-seasonal heat storage system uses Salt in Matrix, or “SIM” material, which is able to store thermal energy through a thermochemical process. Thermal energy (heat) is stored by passing hot air over the SIM, creating a chemical reaction that locks the energy into the material. The reaction is reversed exothermically, meaning that heat is released, by passing damp air over the SIM. Provided the SIM is kept dry it is able to store the heat indefinitely. This makes it suitable for the inter-seasonal storage of heat and for transporting heat from one location to another.

The team at SPECIFIC is exploring a range of commercial applications of the SIM, from providing heat to homes as a substitute to gas, through storage and transportation of industrial waste heat to the drying of agricultural produce. This work is undertaken in partnership across our laboratories in the Pilot Manufacturing Research Centre, at scale in the Solar Heat Energy Demonstrator building and on industrial and agricultural sites across Wales and the UK.

View our Solar Heat Storage case study

Thermal Storage Research at SPECIFIC aims to greatly enhance UK research and development in heat storage as an off-grid gas replacement technology. We are currently working on diurnal (day to night) and inter-seasonal (summer to winter) thermal storage.

Our inter-seasonal heat storage system uses Salt in Matrix, or “SIM” material, which is able to store thermal energy through a thermochemical process. Thermal energy (heat) is stored by passing hot air over the SIM, creating a chemical reaction that locks the energy into the material. The reaction is reversed exothermically, meaning that heat is released, by passing damp air over the SIM. Provided the SIM is kept dry it is able to store the heat indefinitely. This makes it suitable for the inter-seasonal storage of heat and for transporting heat from one location to another.

The team at SPECIFIC is exploring a range of commercial applications of the SIM, from providing heat to homes as a substitute to gas, through storage and transportation of industrial waste heat to the drying of agricultural produce. This work is undertaken in partnership across our laboratories in the Pilot Manufacturing Research Centre, at scale in the Solar Heat Energy Demonstrator building and on industrial and agricultural sites across Wales and the UK.

View our Solar Heat Storage case study

RESISTIVE HEATED COATING

SPECIFIC’s heated coating functions according to the long-established principle of resistive electrical heating, in which electrical energy is converted into heat energy.

It has a range of potential applications, including the first electrically heated raised access floor system, which has been developed by SPECIFIC and is designed to operate at low voltage to work in combination with locally generated and stored renewable electricity (however could equally well be tailored to operate at higher voltage).

The floor has been demonstrated in an evolution of the underfloor heating product, which has been operational in the Active Classroom for over a year.

View our Heated Raised Access Floor System case study

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION & PERFORMANCE MODELLING

TECHNOLOGY CASE STUDIES

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Ultra-fast Curing Perovskite Solar Cells

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Underfloor Heated Coating System

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Solar Heat Storage

Associate Projects

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FLEXIS – Smart Energy For Our Future

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M2A – Materials And Manufacturing Academy

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Hexigone Inhibitors Ltd

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metal – Materials and Manufacturing Work Based Learning

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Sunrise – Solar Power For All

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Water Treatment

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Sêr Cymru Solar