The Solar Tree uses Arkema’s Elium recyclable resin, which offers excellent structural characteristics and has a lower environmental impact. This resin is styrene-free, recyclable, thermoformable and enables the manufacture of lighter parts, making the tree easier to process, store and transport, while offering a high modulus, toughness and stiffness.
How it’s made?
The Solar Tree was developed using two types of manufacturing processes:
– Pultrusion: The stem is manufactured with pultruded profiles for a lightweight, bold design with high mechanical resistance to support the leaves, and precision of the rails where the LED strips are fitted.
– Infusion moulding: The tree’s base and seat are made by infusion using Elium resin. Two moulds, one on each side of the leaf, are bonded by adhesives or by induction and secured to the stem’s pultruded profiles. The stems are then connected to the pultruded profiles, which are also fixed by adhesives or by induction at the base of the tree bench, formed by two parts (base and seat cover). The new technology made it possible to innovate and to achieve a lightweight composite structure. The organic photovoltaic film (OPV) weighs 200g per m², is extremely light and can directly adhere to the leaves.
In this project, the advantage of using composite materials was shape freedom. The Solar Tree has a bold, modular design, where a single leaf makes it possible to create different configurations. It is composed of six leaves, organized in two different heights. Sold separately or together, the client will be able to buy one or more leaves and even organize a forest and sell visual advertising space on the leaves.
Moreover, the use of composite materials reduces maintenance costs as the tree’s fibreglass structure requires no maintenance. Any other type of matexrial, in addition to design limitations, would generate high maintenance costs.
The use of composites increases the product’s life, as it can withstand rain, wind and sun. The Solar Tree offers other advantages including high impact resistance and post-thermoformability due to the use of Elium resin. The tree is lightweight and can be easily transported and assembled. It is recyclable and offers new material assembly possibilities. Printed organic photovoltaic panels can be bonded directly onto the product.
The Solar Tree also has the social function of making people aware of sustainability. The use of composites also offers enhanced marketing opportunities as advertisement and publicity photos and images can be projected on the leaves and bench.
Now with the indoor version using IoT, it is possible for the tree to colaborate with robots to provide service for customers inside shopping malls
The first tree prototype was made of fibreglass, with a simple design using 3 m² of solar panels and offering four USB ports for charging devices. This prototype was tested and installed in the Santa Marta community in Rio de Janeiro under Shell’s Make the Future programme. Following the initial tests, the design was changed and simplified, and a bold design was developed using a single solar leaf that can be composted and assembled in different ways. Using six leaves of the same size, it is possible to form a Solar Tree. The final prototype uses 4 m² of organic panels, thus increasing the production of renewable energy, a high-efficiency LED stripe, USB sockets, sensors and a Wi-Fi system. This last prototype was installed in Rio de Janeiro’s biggest shopping mall, attractiveRio Sul Mall, and was successfully tested for 12 months, exposed to winds and storms.
An application was developed for the tree. Through this application and the use of augmented reality, blockchain and QR codes on the tree, the customer can enter a virtual world that promotes sustainable products and solutions from associated stores and businesses.
The Solar Tree uses state-of-the-art technology and materials and benefits from a partnership between French and Brazilian companies:
– The organic photovoltaic films are produced by Industria Armor in Nantes (France). These extremely lightweight films weigh 200g/m² and are sustainable.
– The Elium recyclable resin developed by Arkema improves resistance and material use.
– A geolocation system (IoT) and sensors receive information on the percentage of solar energy captured (Sigfox technology).
– The tree will be manufactured in Brazil by Cogumelo and in France by PRS Composites. Cogumelo is a manufacturer of pultruded profiles, stairs, railings for floors, platforms, electric trays, lids and poles made of fibreglass. Its role was to turn the project into a composite reality.
– The tree can charge bicycles and electric cars.
Smart furniture concept for smart cities
Market potential and business model
The first target are countries with high sun exposure. In addition to Brazil, which has a large untapped demand for solar energy, the company is also prospecting to sell the product in other countries and regions such as the Caribbean, Florida, California, and Australia as well as Latin American and Mediterranean countries. The Solar Tree is a smart urban structure that caters to public lighting, advertising and out-of-home sales activities. It can be installed temporarily at fairs and/or events, and permanently in many places.
Other potential customers include Uber meeting points, beaches, shopping malls, supermarkets, hospitals, private universities, businesses, local or resident associations, clubs and bars. The tree can also be used as a charging station for electric cars and bicycles.
Market projections for technological advancements and commerce in 2020 are: 50 billion smart objects and 6 billion mobile phones resulting in an exponential e-commerce growth greater than 6.7 trillion dollars.
Based on the business model, earnings will be obtained through the sale of advertising via electronic media and advertising totems, a percentage of the goods sold, tree rentals and system maintenance.
The project was selected twice in the national StartOut programme of Apex/MDIC/Business France as one of the most innovative projects in Brazil, and represented Brazil in the Missions for France and Germany. It also won the Sesi Senai Innovation Award (2017) and the products were exhibited at the Museum of Tomorrow at the Interface Interlace 2017 exhibition. The company was selected for the Brazilian Innovation Programme Cycle 2018 and for the Innovativa Alto Impacto 2018. It recently won the 2018 Composite Excellence Award at FEIPLAR.
The company holds two patents for this product.
The Solar Tree is an innovative urban structure, an off-grid stationary power generator that provides shadow, clean energy, night lighting, connectivity and can be used for IoT commerce and Mobile Out of Home Advertising (MOOH).
A sustainable project
We need to increase the use of renewable energy. Designing roofs that can support solar panels is a great challenge. These coverings must withstand the weight of the panels; resist the action of the sun, wind and rain; require low maintenance; have a long lifetime; be intelligent; use embedded technology; and be recyclable or compostable.
The Solar Tree is conceptually more advanced than existing products. It is a smart power station with connectivity (IoT) for a circular economy and for the production of renewable energy. The Solar Tree contributes to the population’s awareness of sustainability, focusing on economic, social and environmental development. The project uses recyclable raw materials, state-of-the-art flexible solar panels made from polymers and nanotechnology eliminating the use of silicon, and a LED stripe with an 85% greater efficiency than traditional materials. These lamps consume 10 times less energy, last 10 to 15 times longer and do not emit UV radiation. This all results in cost savings and a drastic reduction of carbon emissions.
The composite parts made of Elium resin can be recycled after their end of life in two different ways. The first one involves grinding and compounding for use as a chopped fibre compounding resin and the second is a thermolysis process allowing the recovery of fibres and monomers by depolymerisation. The adopted business model is innovative and foresees a social impact.
– Spreading information and creating awareness about sustainability and renewable energy generation;
– Use of recyclable resins, organic photovoltaic film, global IoT network, augmented reality and blockchain;
– Innovative sustainable design; focus on economic and social development;
– Smart furniture concept for smart cities;
– App with innovative IoT e-commerce for sales of sustainable products.
Industries: Building and Civil Engineering