The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Alumnus Featured in Business West Article

SolaBlock, the brainchild of Patrick Quinlan, a 1982 graduate of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department and a former associate director for the UMass Wind Energy Center, was the subject of a long feature article by Joseph Bednar in the April 9 issue of Business West. SolaBlock is a simple but brilliant concept: Photovoltaic cells are built into cinderblocks, which are then used to build vertical walls — or laid over existing walls — where they generate energy from the sun. Read Business West article:

“We’re so excited about all the possibilities,” Quinlan said in the Business West article. “I walk through the city and look up and say, ‘Oh my goodness, that could all be SolaBlock.’ Or I drive down the road and see all the highway walls and say, ‘That could be SolaBlock.’”

SolaBlock combines the structural benefits of concrete block and energy benefits of solar photovoltaics. According to Business West, this summer SolaBlock — for which Quinlan holds four patents — will be put to the test on a small building at the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) Technical Park.

The test will take place at Building 112 of the STCC tech park, a small brick building used as a maintenance shed. The south and west walls, as well as the roof, will be covered with SolaBlock units, and meters will be installed to measure the energy production of the solar cells and compare the performance of the vertical and roof installations. An Internet connection will allow the public to read those meters and check the progress of the demo over the course of a full year. That project should go online by the fall.

Quinlan will test his SolaBlock concept via a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) and the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, which recently awarded a total of $200,000 to five Bay State entrepreneurs as part of the MassCEC Catalyst Program. The $40,000 grants are intended to help early-stage researchers demonstrate the commercial viability of new clean-energy technology.

Quinlan has a long and noble history in clean-energy technology. He was on the team of engineers during the mid-1970s which deployed the UMass WF-1 wind turbine, one of the world’s most historically significant turbines. Its groundbreaking design was one of the very first to feature many of the common elements of modern utility-scale wind turbines and is now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.

In fact, the Smithsonian also houses two other inventions that Quinlan has been associated with, both while working as an engineer for Dr. Paul MacCready at AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia, California. One is the pioneering 1997 GM EV1electric car, and the other is the Quetzocoatlus Northropi(QN) robotic flying pterodactyl, one of the first robotic aircraft to fly using both wing-flapping and bio-mimicry-based control of flight surfaces and center-of-gravity. (April 2013)