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Nanomaterials July 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Marianne Monteforte

Smart Energy-Saving Glass

Why is this topic significant?

Smart energy-efficient glass that incorporates nanoparticle technologies can contribute toward reducing the transfer of heat and sound. Complementary vanadium oxide–nanoparticle films can also help to modulate room temperatures by blocking solar energy in the summer and dissipating the energy in the building in the winter and in the evenings.

Description

A team of researchers from the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago's Institute for Molecular Engineering, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Temple University's Department of Chemistry are developing an energy-efficient single-pane window by incorporating nanobubble technologies. The DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has awarded the team a $3.3 million grant to develop this technology.

The researchers developed a nanocellular composite that comprises spherical glass bubbles with a diameter of less than 100 nm. By reducing gas collisions, the bubbles prevent the transfer of heat and sound through the glass. By homogeneously distributing the nanobubbles in the glass, the researchers created a high level of transparency, maintaining a level of clarity that is similar to the clarity of conventional windows. As part of the DOE's Lab-Corps program, the research team plans to accelerate this clean-energy technology into the marketplace.

In addition, the researchers are developing a complementary coating technology to modulate the room temperature by coating the glass with a vanadium dioxide–nanoparticle film. The nanoparticle film undergoes a phase change triggered by temperature: During the low temperature of winter, the coating is semiconducting, allowing both visible and infrared light (solar energy from the sun) through the window; during the high temperatures of summer, the coating becomes a metallic material blocking infrared light (preventing additional solar energy).

Implications

The researchers developed a processing method that overcomes a common technical challenge—typical on creation of smart glass—of keeping the glass thin and transparent. The windows could find application in both commercial and residential buildings, increasing building energy efficiencies.

Energy losses through windows can typically account for nearly half the total energy consumption in buildings. According to ARPA-E, 30% to 40% of windows in the United States are single pane; installation of the smart windows could save consumers $12 billion a year in energy costs. However, these smart windows remain a premium product in comparison with conventional window blinds, which can also shade the sun. Nevertheless, smart windows offer consumers long-term energy savings and, with the rate of development of cost-effective manufacturing methods, these energy savings may help to drive the commercial release of this smart glass technology.

Impacts/Disruptions

Smart windows are emerging as a new technology for the buildings of the future, with a number of smart window suppliers and installers emerging as the technology advances. Commercially available smart glass that competes for a market share in the smart windows market include chromogenic, suspended particle displays, and liquid-crystal displays, which all have individual advantages and disadvantages in terms of performance and cost.

The global market for smart windows continues to grow. According to a recent Industry ARC report, in 2015 the Smart Windows Market was worth about $4.37 billion and is likely to grow to an estimated $9.1 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 22.9% by 2020. The market is driven by the need for both long-term and economical solutions to conserving energy.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low to Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Construction, transportation, consumer electronics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Silica-Based Bottles That Repel Detergents

Why is this topic significant?

The low surface tension of soaps, shampoos, and detergents can result in the products' sticking to the sides or to the cap of the bottles that contain them. Recent research reveals a new nanoparticle-based spray-coating technology that repels such products, enabling ease of removal from bottles.

Description

In June 2016, researchers from Ohio State University (Columbus) developed polycarbonate and polypropylene bottles with a low surface tension, enabling surfactant-based products—such as soaps, shampoos, and detergents—to form beads on surfaces and flow easily out of bottles. The researchers published the results of their study in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

The researchers' patent-pending process involves dissolving silica nanoparticles in a liquid solvent and subsequently spray-coating the inside of plastic bottles. The solvent—xylene—softens the plastic surface slightly, and subsequent heating and coating with fluorosilane enables the silica nanoparticles to embed into the surface and harden. The silica nanoparticles formed y-shape structures that repel surfactant-based liquids, enabling them to slide off the surface. One of the lead researchers—Bharat Bhushan—highlighted the importance of this development in a recent Nanowerk article: "It's what you'd call a first-world problem, right? 'I can't get all of the shampoo to come out of the bottle.' But manufacturers are really interested in this, because they make billions of bottles that end up in the garbage with product still in them."

Implications

Although only 1% to 2% of product typically goes to waste in conventional surfactant-based liquid bottles, given the millions of discarded bottles, this volume of wasted product adds up. Loss of product is not only a waste of resources; it is also an environmental concern, because chemicals are released into the environment.

This new nanoparticle-based spray-coating technology could help to save product resources. In addition, the method that the researchers devised to create the surfactant-repelling surface is more cost effective than other methods in development, such as photolithography. Also, the low cost and the ease of mass production of silica nanoparticles make this technology readily upscalable. However, the researchers are yet to commercialize this technology, and already similar nonslide surfaces—such as superhydrophobic technology LiquiGlide—exist in the marketplace. In addition, bottle manufacturers and suppliers also have well-established manufacturing processes in place and therefore would need a larger form of economic incentive to alter these processes.

Impacts/Disruptions

Liquid-repelling surfaces can find use in other applications—for example, to sterilize biomedical devices and tools and for food packaging to prevent bacteria from attaching onto the surface. The technology could also be of benefit for recycling processes, by removing excess product from the internal bottle and reducing the need for rinsing. In addition, the technology could help automakers in the design of self-cleaning headlights or consumer-electronics suppliers for nonstick smartphone surfaces.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low to Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Plastics processing, cosmetics, food packaging, medical devices

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: