The Italian ceramic tile industry is working to integrate photovoltaic technology into ceramic tiles in order to develop a cladding material that will be capable of reducing the energy consumption of buildings and optimising the exchange of heat between the interior and exterior. 

The first prototypes have shown promising results for use in the most innovative green building projects.

Photovoltaic tiles for exterior cladding

Non-transparent sections of the building envelope such as walls and roofs account for up to 80% of the total heat exchange of buildings. 

The aim of photovoltaic tiles is to optimise the energy efficiency of buildings by exploiting surfaces exposed to sunlight. Through interventions of this kind it is possible to reduce heat loss in winter and control solar gain in summer.

Functionalisation of ceramic tiles

In recent years, the Italian ceramic tile industry has been working to integrate photovoltaic (PV) devices into tiles so as to meet aesthetic and energy needs while facilitating access to renewable energy.

The researchers’ goal is to gradually functionalise tiles, in other words to introduce new functions in addition to their traditional characteristics. These new functions may include thermal insulation, self-cleaning, and energy collection and transformation.

The development of solar PV tiles

For the development of tiles coated with PV material, research efforts have focused on several different goals:

  • Replacing the glazed layer of the tiles with a photovoltaic surface.
  • Developing technology for creating photovoltaic surfaces directly on ceramic tiles.
  • Producing functionalised tiles for use as cladding.
  • Understanding how to make the best use of PV tiles for external cladding of buildings.

In BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaic) installations, solar panels are integrated into roofs and façades and perform a variety of functions including electricity generation and thermal insulation. This is currently one of the fastest growing segments of the construction industry.

Research by CECERBENCH 

The CECERBENCH laboratory at Centro Ceramico Italiano specialises in the development of ceramic tiles with functional surfaces. Its research activities have shown that it is possible to create cladding materials that produce electricity by means of photovoltaic inserts.

For this purpose the researchers studied various materials, on which they replaced the glaze layer with solar cells.

The prototype of photovoltaic tiles

The PV tile prototype that was developed is 10×10 centimetres in size and consists of a series of four photovoltaic cells connected in such a way as to recreate a device similar to a solar panel. 

The resulting tiles are mounted on aluminium structures and connected by simple electrical sockets.

Initial tests involved assembling 9 of these prototypes (organised in 3 rows of 3 tiles each) and mounting the resultant module on an exterior wall exposed to sunlight, leaving an air gap of about 10 centimetres so as to simulate a ventilated façade.

The structure of the PV tiles

Each individual PV tile consists of:

  • a conductive layer that can be produced using conventional ceramic techniques
  • a photovoltaic layer made of a-Si or an alternative material
  • a vitreous or polymeric protective layer

For this prototype, a PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) application called “Ceramic tile with surface functionalized with photovoltaic cells” was filed.

The results obtained from the prototypes

By using these prototypes, it was possible to determine how these types of tiles affect heat exchange between the interior and exterior spaces.

Initial results showed that parameters such as PV cell temperature, ambient temperature and solar illumination are linearly correlated and that the photovoltaic tiles are able to maintain homogeneous thermal behaviour.

Innovation and the Italian ceramic industry

The Italian ceramic industry’s experience in tile manufacturing coupled with cutting-edge research in the field of renewables has resulted in an innovative product that represents a further step towards more sustainable construction.