Interview with Heike Klussmann from Bau Kunst Erfinden

Pu­b­li­ca­ti­on: The Po­wer of ... Whe­re de­sign meets so­lar en­er­gy

An In­du­s­trial De­sign Pro­ject Burg Gie­bi­chen­stein, Kunst­hoch­schu­le Hal­le, Uni­ver­si­ty of Art and De­sign

The in­ter­di­s­ci­p­li­na­ry re­se­arch of Bau Kunst Er­fin­den deals, among other things, with in­tel­li­gent sur­faces and ma­te­rials in the con­text of ci­vil en­ginee­ring. What was your mo­ti­va­ti­on be­hind re­se­ar­ching dye-sen­si­ti­sed so­lar cells in com­bi­na­ti­on with con­c­re­te?

We are curr­ent­ly fa­cing enor­mous so­cial chal­len­ges. To­day, 75 per­cent of the po­pu­la­ti­on in Eu­ro­pe and 55 per­cent of the world’s po­pu­la­ti­on li­ve in conur­ba­ti­ons, which ac­co­unt for 60–80 per­cent of the world’s to­tal en­er­gy con­sump­ti­on. If the cur­rent con­di­ti­ons are main­tai­ned, glo­bal en­er­gy con­sump­ti­on in buil­dings is ex­pec­ted to dou­b­le or even trip­le by 2050. As in­du­s­trial na­ti­ons burn fos­sil fu­els mo­re than a mil­li­on ti­mes fas­ter than they can re­new them, and as the needs of de­ve­lo­ping E7 co­un­tries in­c­rea­se, cur­rent esti­ma­tes sug­gest that fos­sil fu­el as a re­sour­ce will be de­p­le­ted in less than 100 years. In short, buil­dings con­su­me en­er­gy, wa­ter and ma­te­rials, and con­struc­ti­on cau­ses was­te as well as CO2 and parti­cu­la­te emis­si­ons. Gi­ven the enor­mous si­ze of the con­struc­ti­on sec­tor, even small re­duc­ti­ons can help to ma­ke a big dif­fe­ren­ce. The re­se­arch pro­ject Dye-Sen­si­ti­sed So­lar Con­c­re­te (Dy­sC­re­te, Ds­sC­re­te) fo­cu­ses on elec­tri­ci­ty pro­duc­ti­on re­sul­ting from the tar­ge­ted ma­te­rial syn­the­sis of ce­ment-ba­sed buil­ding ma­te­rials and pho­to­re­ac­ti­ve parti­c­les. Func­tio­nal lay­ers that can con­vert light in­to elec­tri­cal en­er­gy ac­cor­ding to the prin­ci­p­les of tech­ni­cal pho­to­syn­the­sis are ap­p­lied to con­c­re­te sur­faces and are thus re­fi­ned. The ad­van­ta­ge is that su­s­tainab­le en­er­gy ge­ne­ra­ti­on is al­so pos­si­b­le with at­mos­phe­ric light, using fre­e­ly availab­le com­pon­ents at com­pa­ra­ti­ve­ly low pro­duc­ti­on costs. For this rea­son, the in­no­va­ti­ve ma­te­rial sys­tem has the po­ten­tial of a low-cost en­er­gy sour­ce.

Dye so­lar cells ha­ve be­en pa­ten­ted sin­ce 1992. Ne­vert­he­less, ar­tisti­cal­ly mo­ti­va­ted re­se­arch in­to dye so­lar cells is re­la­ti­ve­ly ra­re. Whe­re do you see the po­ten­tial of dye-sen­si­ti­sed so­lar cells (com­pa­red to si­li­con so­lar cells)?

For so­me years now, the­re has be­en in­ves­ti­ga­ti­on in­to so­lar cells ma­de of or­ga­nic ma­te­rials (e.g. dye-sen­si­ti­sed so­lar cell) and in­or­ga­nic ma­te­rials (e.g. Kes­te­ri­te and Pe­rows­ki­te). Ho­we­ver, their ap­p­li­ca­ti­on in opaque buil­ding ma­te­rials such as con­c­re­te has so far be­en igno­red, sin­ce at­ten­ti­on was in­i­tial­ly fo­cu­sed on the great de­ve­lop­ment po­ten­tial of glass-ba­sed translu­cent mo­du­les. Ba­sed on the tech­no­lo­gy of dye-sen­si­ti­sed so­lar cell (O’Re­gan and Grät­zel, 1991), or­ga­nic dyes are used in the ma­te­rial sys­tem dye-sen­si­ti­sed so­lar con­c­re­te in or­der to ab­sorb light and ge­ne­ra­te en­er­gy by elec­tro­che­mi­cal re­ac­ti­ons. The ad­van­ta­ges that re­sult in­clu­de the bet­ter availa­bi­li­ty of all raw ma­te­rials, a re­la­ti­ve­ly in­ex­pen­si­ve pro­duc­ti­on, va­rious de­sign pos­si­bi­li­ties and the abi­li­ty to use at­mos­phe­ric light, so that no spe­cial ori­en­ta­ti­on to the sun is ne­cessa­ry. The ma­te­rial sys­tem is al­so re­ge­ne­ra­b­le, lar­ge­ly re­cy­clab­le and of­fers great po­ten­tial in terms of de­sign.

The in­stal­la­ti­on of so­lar cells on buil­dings is a ma­jor is­sue – al­so be­cau­se the buil­ding sec­tor is res­pon­si­b­le for a con­s­i­de­ra­b­le amo­unt of gre­en­hou­se gas emis­si­ons in Ger­ma­ny. Do you see re­s­tric­ti­ons for crea­ti­ve free­dom in the use of so­lar en­er­gy – and if so, whe­re would you see such re­s­tric­ti­ons?

The abi­li­ty to al­so use the en­er­gy of at­mos­phe­ric light is a parti­cu­lar­ly no­te­wor­thy fea­tu­re of dye-sen­si­ti­sed so­lar con­c­re­te, as the­re are hard­ly any re­s­tric­ti­ons with re­gard to struc­tu­ral im­p­le­men­ta­ti­on com­pa­red to con­ven­tio­nal PV sys­tems. This opens up al­most un­li­mi­t­ed ap­p­li­ca­ti­on and de­sign pos­si­bi­li­ties in terms of form, de­sign and lo­ca­ti­on.

Whe­re do you see the big­gest chal­len­ge in the use and sp­read of so­lar pa­nels in pu­b­lic space?

No­wa­days, buil­ding is cha­rac­te­ri­sed by tra­di­ti­on, is high­ly ris­ka­ver­se and, as far as pos­si­b­le, of­f­li­ne. The con­struc­ti­on in­du­s­try should use new tech­no­lo­gies and ma­te­rials in its own in­te­rest and both ad­apt and re­new its pro­ces­ses and bu­si­ness mo­dels. Other­wi­se the­re is a risk that the suc­cess ex­pe­ri­en­ced over a long pe­riod of ti­me will re­sult in ne­g­lect of de­ve­lop­ments that can un­der­mi­ne the suc­cess of its own bu­si­ness mo­del. The pu­b­lic sec­tor is al­so chal­len­ged. It should act as a “s­mart cli­ent” – in other words, ma­ke tar­ge­ted use of pu­b­lic pro­cu­re­ment, set an examp­le with best-practi­ce pro­jects and best-practi­ce sha­ring as well as im­p­le­ment pi­lot pro­jects. Ten­de­ring pro­ce­du­res must be re­for­med so that the chea­pest bid is not the one that wins, but ra­ther the best bid in terms of qua­li­ty. Bids must be eva­lua­ted with re­gard to in­no­va­ti­on, use of new tech­no­lo­gies and pro­ces­ses as well as li­fe-cy­c­le costs and su­s­taina­bi­li­ty.

In the ma­ga­zi­ne Zu­kunft Bau, dy­sc­re­te is de­scri­bed as a ‘ce­men­ti­tious ma­te­rial for in­no­va­ti­ve fa­ca­de, wall and floor sys­tems in the con­struc­ti­on in­du­s­try’. What other goals do you ha­ve for your re­se­arch? What ro­le does the Plot­bot/Craw­ler play in this con­text?

The aim is to de­ve­lop a ful­ly com­po­nent-in­te­g­ra­ted pho­to­vol­taic ma­te­rial. For this spe­ci­fic ap­p­li­ca­ti­on, we de­ve­lo­ped an ea­sy-tou­se, web-ba­sed, sen­sor-gui­ded au­to­matic mo­ti­on con­trol­ler – the Plot­bot/Craw­ler – at the Bau Kunst Er­fin­den re­se­arch plat­form. Thanks to the Plot­bot/Craw­ler, com­plex laye­ring sys­tems for the func­tio­na­li­sa­ti­on of buil­ding sur­faces can be ap­p­lied. By me­ans of a con­sis­tent­ly in­ter­lo­cked lo­gic bet­we­en tool and soft­wa­re, the sur­faces of con­struc­ti­on ele­ments of any geo­me­try are in­stant­ly con­trol­led or coa­ted ac­cor­ding to a pre­vious­ly di­gi­tal­ly crea­ted pro­ces­sing sys­tem. The Plot­bot/ Craw­ler is main­ly used to ap­p­ly and re­new pho­to­re­ac­ti­ve lay­ers on fa­ca­des. The fa­ca­de ro­bot is sui­ta­b­le for ap­p­lying the­se func­tio­nal lay­ers, but can al­so be mo­di­fied to ac­com­mo­da­te other func­tio­nal sys­tems – for examp­le, to ap­p­ly pig­ment coa­tings, sealants, gui­dan­ce sys­tems and de­co­ra­ti­ve lay­ers or to de­tect mois­tu­re, cracks and other de­fects on fa­ca­des.

In ge­ne­ral, how do you ima­gi­ne using dy­sc­re­te or so­lar en­er­gy in a fu­tu­re sce­na­rio?

The sun is al­rea­dy an im­portant sour­ce of en­er­gy to­day, and pho­to­vol­taics will be­co­me one of the most im­portant po­wer sup­p­ly tech­no­lo­gies of the fu­tu­re. Buil­dings play an im­portant ro­le he­re. They in­c­rea­sin­g­ly ope­ra­te with the en­er­gy sys­tem and ha­ve the po­ten­tial to be­co­me de­cen­tra­li­sed en­er­gy cen­t­res. The do­mi­n­ant ma­te­rial in buil­ding-in­te­g­ra­ted pho­to­vol­taics (BIPV) to­day is the si­li­con so­lar cell. Pa­nels connec­ted to so­lar mo­du­les ha­ve lar­ge­ly es­tab­lis­hed them­sel­ves as on-roof so­lar po­wer sys­tems. Whi­le si­li­con, the ba­sic ma­te­rial re­qui­red for its ma­nu­fac­tu­re, is availab­le in un­li­mi­t­ed quan­ti­ties, ma­te­rials such as in­di­um, gal­li­um, tell­u­ri­um and se­le­ni­um, which are al­so ne­cessa­ry, must be criti­cal­ly eva­lua­ted in terms of their ma­te­rial eco­no­my, re­sour­ce con­sump­ti­on and en­viron­men­tal com­pa­ti­bi­li­ty. Such plants al­so re­qui­re space, which is on­ly availab­le to a li­mi­t­ed ex­tent in conur­ba­ti­ons. Further­mo­re, si­li­con-ba­sed pho­to­vol­taics must be ori­en­ted to the south in or­der to use the sun­light ef­fec­ti­ve­ly. Sin­ce the geo­me­try of buil­dings and pa­nels are not co­or­di­na­ted, an unat­trac­ti­ve aes­thetic is ad­di­tio­nal­ly crea­ted that does not al­low any ar­tistic com­po­si­ti­on. The pho­to­vol­taic im­p­le­men­ta­ti­on of opaque buil­ding ma­te­rials of­fers a high de­g­ree of fle­xi­bi­li­ty for ar­chi­tec­tu­re and gi­ves the buil­ding in­du­s­try the op­por­tuni­ty to sig­ni­fi­cant­ly in­c­rea­se the amo­unt of space availab­le for ge­ne­ra­ting so­lar en­er­gy and al­so to sha­pe this new tech­no­lo­gy at an ear­ly sta­ge – in or­der to de­ve­lop aes­theti­cal­ly so­phisti­ca­ted sys­tems that can be in­cor­po­ra­ted in­to plan­ning as pho­toac­ti­ve and struc­tu­ral­ly sha­ping sys­tems at the sa­me ti­me.

Your work at Bau Kunst Er­fin­den is ba­sed on in­ter­di­s­ci­p­li­na­ri­ty bet­we­en dif­fe­rent crea­ti­ve and sci­en­ti­fic fields. What does re­se­arch by de­sig­ners look li­ke and to what ex­tent does it dif­fer from sci­en­ce in terms of your ex­pe­ri­en­ces?

To­day, de­sig­ners, ar­chi­tects, en­gineers, com­pu­ter sci­en­tists and re­se­ar­chers are in­vol­ved at dif­fe­rent ti­mes in the de­ve­lop­ment of pro­ducts, buil­dings and in­fra­struc­tu­res. At the re­se­arch plat­form Bau Kunst Er­fin­den, we work to­ge­ther in a way that is de­fini­te­ly in­ter­di­s­ci­p­li­na­ry right from the ve­ry be­gin­ning of a pro­ject and at a ve­ry ear­ly sta­ge. In the pro­jects, ar­tistic st­ra­te­gies, ba­sic sci­en­ce and ap­p­li­ca­ti­on-ori­en­ted en­ginee­ring st­ra­te­gies over­lap. This crea­tes bet­ter do­ve­tai­ling of the pro­ces­ses in­vol­ved as well as ad­ded va­lue for all parti­ci­pants. Art me­ans as­king qu­es­ti­ons and connec­ting know­led­ge. In­ter­di­s­ci­p­li­na­ry work is about thin­king ahead and pla­cing one’s own di­s­ci­p­li­ne and one’s own work in a dif­fe­rent con­text. Lea­ving one’s own com­fort zo­ne is so­me­t­hing that one sim­p­ly has to get in­vol­ved in.

In­ter­view by Ma­rie Gehr­hardt

Hei­ke Kluss­mann is an ar­tist and a pro­fes­sor wor­king in the field of fi­ne arts and ar­chi­tec­tu­re at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kas­sel sin­ce 2005. She al­so runs her own stu­dio in Ber­lin, is re­p­re­sen­ted in ex­hi­bi­ti­ons, films and pu­b­li­ca­ti­ons, and has re­cei­ved nu­me­rous awards. In 2009, she foun­ded the in­ter­di­s­ci­p­li­na­ry re­se­arch plat­form BAU KUNST ER­FIN­DEN in Kas­sel. The plat­form com­bi­nes ex­per­ti­se from va­rious fields, in­clu­ding the fi­ne arts, ar­chi­tec­tu­re, ur­ban plan­ning, ex­pe­ri­men­tal phy­sics and tech­no­lo­gi­cal ma­te­rial re­se­arch. BAU KUNST ER­FIN­DEN is de­di­ca­ted to the de­ve­lop­ment of in­no­va­ti­ve ma­te­rials sys­tems and in­tel­li­gent sur­faces.

About the Article

The Pow­er of ... Where de­sign meets so­lar en­er­gy
Marie Gehrhardt