Technological Institute of the Philippines

T.I.P. Team Onix develops concrete renewable energy alternative

The Philippines is the #1 country in the Global Climate Risk Index 2015 report, a distinction we Filipinos should truly be fearful of. Not only were the years 2014 to 2017 the hottest in recorded history, the heat index in the Philippines already reached a record-shattering 51°C in 2016—a figure only expected to grow over time. Those living in Metro Manila and other urbanized cities are even more prone to experiencing higher temperatures due to the Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE). Short and tall concrete buildings that mark urbanization also trap heat within cities, creating pockets or islands of heat that make them up to 2°C to 3°C hotter than surrounding rural areas. The higher temperatures generated in urbanized areas also come from vehicles and industrial activities, enabling heat islands to persist even during the night time.

As a tropical country, not only is the Philippines automatically subject to these hot temperatures year-round, its urban heat islands are also growing in size and intensity as cities continue to develop and expand. These hotter urban temperatures result in a slew of problems for Philippine cities, including increased household and business spending on additional cooling devices such as air-conditioner units and fans.

There is no immediate solution in sight. Even if climate change accords are fulfilled and global warming is stopped, researchers say that current temperatures will remain as is for the next few decades. Seeing that the heat is here to stay, T.I.P. Team Onix took it upon themselves to design an alternative energy source that utilizes the urban heat island effect, in the hopes of lessening the gravity of its mounting consequences. During the sweltering summer of 2017, T.I.P. Team Onix sought to utilize the concepts they learned during their engineering classes to turn concrete—one of the main culprits behind urban heat islands—into something that can benefit and revitalize cities and those living and working within them.

In just a month of conceptualizing, ideation, and testing, T.I.P. Team Onix managed to produce a working prototype that transforms urban heat into electricity. The project, named “Fibre-reinforced Composite Thermoelectric Tile Utilizing Urban Heat as Renewable Energy Source” or “InBrico” as it is simply called, is a three-layered, one-square foot cement tile that functions as a high-scale Peltier device using the Seebeck effect. Essentially, the temperature difference between the hot outer layer and the cooler inner layer is coursed through and converted by the fibre-reinforced middle layer into electrical energy. While concrete is not normally a conductor of electricity, the fibre-reinforced variant used in the InBrico’s middle layer works as a semiconductor, absorbing thermal energy to produce 5 watts of power at 100 millivolts with current Philippine temperatures. The hotter it is and the larger the surface area covered by InBrico, the larger the electricity output it can produce. While comparable to solar panels, InBrico only necessitates ambient temperatures to function—not direct sunlight—allowing it to maximize our country’s tropical climate.

With the help of the Technological Institute of the Philippines’ (T.I.P.) thesis students, T.I.P. Team Onix is currently upgrading InBrico’s electricity generating capabilities to enable it to power electronics such as lights, fans, and other appliances. Further improvements on the device can also allow InBrico to be deployed on a much larger scale, not just as a tile but also as a wall. These large-scale deployments can see InBrico replacing infrastructure surfaces usually made from concrete, such as sidewalks, buildings, light and electricity posts, and roofs. Moreover, InBrico can even be used to dry slick roads and sidewalks faster by coursing electricity through the device, enabling it to temporarily act as a heat generator.

T.I.P. Team Onix is hopeful that InBrico can positively impact the areas of construction and renewable energy as it can pave the way for future urban developments that are resistant against urban heat islands, while at the same time supplementing the electricity output from traditional and alternative energy sources. In fact, T.I.P. Team Onix hopes to implement a more efficient version of InBrico first in T.I.P., making the campus a blueprint on how buildings and even cities of tomorrow could be built: environment-friendly, human-friendly, and self-sustaining.

The entire T.I.P. community takes pride in supporting T.I.P. Team Onix as well as the other endeavors of its students and faculty members through its program of Student Technopreneurship and Industry-Academe Collaborative Applied Research, collectively called T.I.P. TechnoCoRe. This institutional thrust allows T.I.P. to empower its students to be engineers of tomorrow, equipped with the necessary skills to discern important societal problems and develop and execute critical innovations in response to these issues. In instilling technopreneurship in its students, T.I.P. aims to be a breeding ground of disruptive ideas and world-class innovations that showcase the best of Filipino ingenuity.