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Mitrex claims market first with fire-rated building solar panels

Mitrex's fire-rated building integrated photovoltaics are subjected to a fire test. (Courtesy Mitrex)

Mitrex, a Toronto-based solar module manufacturer, says it has broken new ground with its fire-rated building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) that can enable safer solar energy generation on high-rise buildings.

Its fire-rated BIPV passed global and European Union-recognized fire safety tests which simulate the worst-case scenarios of a building fire. Mitrex says this is a global first in the sector.

Mitrex cited the potentially devastating impact a cladding fire can have in a high-rise building. Cladding materials are believed to have contributed to the rapid spread of blazes at the Grenfell Tower in England and the Marina Torch in Dubai.

“As the world needs more solar panels, we need to install them more on high-rises, and for the safety of the occupants it has to be tested,” said Danial Hadizadeh, CEO of Mitrex. “We want to bring awareness to the market, to architects, to building owners just so they follow the building code and make sure they are using the highest-rated materials and for the safety of the occupants.”

Mitrex currently has a Canadian facility that is building close to 500 megawatts of solar energy capacity per year and is building a U.S. plant with a planned capacity of 2.5 gigawatts. It focuses on integrating solar energy into man-made structures like building enclosures, highway noise barriers and roofs.

Mitrex’s fire-rated BIPV

BIPVs are solar panels that blend into their surroundings. They can come in the form of windows, shingles, cladding and many more objects. They can seamlessly integrate clean energy production into buildings while maintaining their purpose, like a window BIPV that lets light shine through.

When Mitrex entered the BIPV industry, it realized the best return on investment comes from buildings over six to seven storeys tall – a mid- or high-rise. But they must meet fire safety regulations and testing, and Mitrex saw at the time there was no BIPV solution on the market for these structures.

Three years ago, it embarked on BIPV fire safety testing with components that can overcome the main challenge of solar panels containing combustible materials. Mitrex developed a BIPV designed with integrated components that are fire-rated, along with two patent-pending features that address the problem.

The BIPVs passed tests exposing them to direct flame, radiant heat and smoke, which simulates the worst-case scenarios of a building fire.

It passed the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 285 standard, a full-scale wall assembly test that simulates the spread of fire through a multi-story building. It also passed the European Union’s EN 13501-1 standard, a fire classification system for the performance of construction products and building elements.

The NFPA 285 is a globally-recognized standard tested for a two-hour fire rating. It will take two hours for a fire to penetrate a wall, which Hadizadeh said is “plenty of time for occupants to leave the building.” It will take between 30 minutes to 60 minutes for a fire to travel across floors, he added.

Under the EN 13501-1 standard, which measures smoke development, it showed limited combustibility, little smoke generation and no burning droplets.

Mitrex’s BIPV passed a similar test known as CAN/ULC S134 modified for the Canadian market.

It also created a system that enables the installation of BIPVs from outside and inside a high-rise for Canada and the U.S.

“. . . our innovation goes into creating materials science and building envelope science, it’s not just the solar itself.”

Enabling safer high-rise BIPVs

Hadizadeh said fire-rated BIPVs enable installations which offer a high level of safety. They can ease the concerns of architects, the market and building owners, and encourage them to embed clean energy generation into high-rises, he said.

The BIPVs have a range of 12 to 20 watts of power output per square foot, depending on the colour, applications and the type of glass. Being fire-rated will not impact their efficacy, Hadizadeh said.

“It opens the door to any building over six or seven storeys around the world. Up until now, they were limited not to high-rises. Having this certificate allows our products to be on anything above six or seven storeys."

It is integrating BIPV into a residence at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, which it claims is the tallest BIPV façade in North America.

He added that Mitrex is signing “many” contracts soon to be announced and has a “large pipeline” of orders for the fire-rated BIPV.

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