September 27, 2018

Investigating the Window of the Future

by Erin Johnson

The Quanex team was at GlassBuild America in Las Vegas earlier this month (check out our coverage here, in case you missed it), and I’m always struck by the continued innovation in our industry. The ways we’re continuing to make glass and window products better never ceases.

With that in mind, I got to thinking: What does the window of the future look like? I did a little digging and found some interesting characteristics:

Uncharted energy performance. Fenestration professionals have been achieving new, increasingly stringent efficiency and performance goals for a long time. Could there come a point where windows, in fact, outperform traditional walls?

The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) thinks so. Their work in developing a “super window” actually dates back a few decades:
The super window was in fact invented and patented by Berkeley Lab more than 20 years ago. But at the time, there were no viable sources of large sheets of very thin glass, and the cost of the materials made it prohibitively expensive.

“The thin glass is 0.7 mm thick,” Berkeley Lab Researcher Charlie Curcija said. “Twenty years ago we couldn’t find any companies that could make thin glass sheets in volume. Now the flat-screen TV industry has pushed the glass industry to create precisely the glass we need for windows, and at a price the window market can afford.”

The clear hurdle here, of course, is widespread affordability of these sorts of “super windows.” But increased window and glass performance is something that our industry continuously works toward, and with the ongoing advancements being made, it’s not hard to imagine a day when super-high-performing units are widespread.

Smart glass. Ever been in a restaurant, facing a window, and find yourself blinded by the rising or setting sun?

The folks behind the development of electrochromic glass probably have. Using tiny layers of electrochromic coatings on glass surfaces, activated by tiny voltages, electrochromic glass can easily transition between tint states, responding to sunlight, heat and glare to dramatically enhance indoor comfort. When connected with sophisticated building control systems, there’s plenty of potential here, and there have already been some impressive real-world results.

Solar windows. We highlighted the potential of solar windows on In Focus about two years ago, when some research was being conducted at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. While still in the experimental phase, there is progress being made on this interesting front.

Per Science magazine:
A series of recent results points to a solution, he says: Turn the windows into solar panels. In the past, materials scientists have embedded light-absorbing films in window glass. But such solar windows tend to have a reddish or brown tint that architects find unappealing. The new solar window technologies, however, absorb almost exclusively invisible ultraviolet (UV) or infrared light. That leaves the glass clear while blocking the UV and infrared radiation that normally leak through it, sometimes delivering unwanted heat. By cutting heat gain while generating power, the windows "have huge prospects," Wheeler says, including the possibility that a large office building could power itself.

This burgeoning technology is becoming increasingly efficient, with new techniques currently being researched showing the potential to reach 20 percent efficiency while remaining entirely transparent. We might not be there yet, but solar windows could have a major impact later down the line.
This is one trend we’re watching closely. Quanex has invested itself in solar technology, and at this year’s GlassBuild show we showcased our Solargain® sealants for thin film and crystalline silicon photovoltaic solar modules.

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Posted: September 27, 2018 by Erin Johnson Filed under: solar, technology, windows