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    Griffith University’s low-cost smart windows automatically trap heat and light

    Geraldine Chua

    A professor at Griffith University has begun work on a new breed of smart window. If all goes to plan, the energy-trapping glass panel will be able to change its colour, and automatically control the amount of light and heat being transmitted into a building.

    The Australian Government, through the Research Council’s Linkage Projects Scheme, has awarded Professor Huijun Zhao just over half a million dollars for the project. These funds will allow the researchers, together with partner organisation Confirmation Australia, to begin producing a synthesis of the functional nanomaterials that make ‘smart windows’ work.  

    Although the concept of ‘smart windows’ is not new, this project could be the first to commercialise and integrate the material into glass manufacturing processes at scale and with a low associated cost.

    “The intended outcomes of this project will facilitate the wide-spread adoption of energy-saving smart windows, alleviate pressure on the rising energy demand and contribute to the goal of sustainable working and living environments,” says Zhao, director of Griffith’s Centre for Clean Environment and Energy.

    SMART WINDOWS

    According to a market report by Allied Market Research, the global smart glass and smart window market is expected to garner $6.9 billion by 2022, thanks in part to a surging demand for smart glass-based products in the construction sector.

    Glass is one of the darlings of the AEC industry due to its ability to let in natural light. However, its insulation properties have traditionally been poor – so much so that windows are the primary source of energy loss in buildings.

    “The ease of energy exchange through conventional windows can be almost ten times that of insulated walls,” Zhao explains. “This energy wastage can account for more than 50 percent of the energy consumed for HVAC, especially during the summer and winter.”

    By controlling the amount of heat and light entering a building, smart windows could soon change that statistic. They also hold the promise of significant energy savings by reducing reliance on air conditioning, heating and artificial lighting.

    “Besides residential buildings, this is particularly important for office buildings, hotels, and schools where the energy consumption for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and lighting are more than 70 percent of the total energy consumption,” says Zhao.

    While the high price of smart glass has so far limited its usage, new advancements and ways to lower the cost of the technology – as Zhao and his team are investigating – could see a surge of this new material in our building landscape.

    Furthermore, with the advancement of materials science and the Internet of Things, smart windows that offer additional dynamic functions – “such as self-cleaning, thermochromics and solar-harvesting, and user-controlled functions such as heating, electrochromics, and interactive display” – are only expected to become more prevalent in building automation and energy management. 

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