Researchers at North Carolina State University in the US have developed a new dynamic window material that can tune out certain wavelengths of light and block heat to suit the conditions. 

Three Modes Now Possible 

The Dynamic window glass can be used to switch windows between three modes: transparent, or “normal” windows, windows that block infrared light (helping to keep a building cool), and tinted windows that control glare while maintaining the view. This three-mode option is a step forward from existing dynamic windows based on electrochromism (using an electric stimulus to change opacity) which can only switch between clear or dark modes. 

Water Is The Key 

The researchers report that it’s the binding of water within the crystalline structure of tungsten oxide (forming tungsten oxide hydrate) that allows the window material to exhibit a previously unknown behaviour whereby it can be tuned to three modes.  

How Does It Work? 

To summarise how and why it works: 

Transparent tungsten oxides have long been used in dynamic windows by using an electrical signal and injecting lithium ions and electrons into the material to make it dark and block light. 

The new research, however, showed that adding water to the crystalline structure of tungsten oxide hydrate (a substance related to tungsten oxide that can accommodate more lithium ions) makes its structure less dense. This makes it more resistant to deformation when lithium ions and electrons are injected into it, thereby enabling it to have two modes. The first is a “heat blocking” mode (the cool mode), allowing visible wavelengths of light to pass through, but blocking infrared light. The second, (which happens after more lithium ions and electrons are injected), is a dark mode, which blocks out both visible and infrared wavelengths of light.  

Delia Milliron, co-corresponding author of the paper about the research said: “The discovery of dual-band (infrared and visible) light control in a single material that’s already well-known to the smart windows community may accelerate development of commercial products with enhanced features”. She also highlighted the potential wider implications of the discovery, saying: “The unforeseen role of structural water in producing distinctive electrochemical properties may inspire the research community beyond smart window developers, leading to innovation in energy storage and conversion materials.” 

Why Have Dynamic / Smart Windows Anyway? 

Dynamic windows, or smart windows, offer several benefits. For example: 

  • Energy efficiency. They reduce energy consumption by controlling heat and light entry, leading to lower heating and cooling costs. 
  • Comfort and productivity. By managing glare and natural light, they create a more comfortable environment, enhancing productivity in workplaces and schools. 
  • UV protection. These windows block harmful UV rays, protecting interiors and occupants from sun damage. 
  • Privacy and security. Their adjustable opacity offers privacy and added security without the need for blinds or curtains. 
  • Aesthetic and design flexibility. They provide architects with more design options, allowing for large glass surfaces without excessive heat gain or loss. 
  • Environmental impact. By reducing reliance on artificial lighting and climate control, they help lower a building’s carbon footprint. 
  • Health benefits. Optimal natural light exposure improves mood and sleep patterns. 

Overall, dynamic windows offer a combination of energy savings, comfort, aesthetic appeal, and environmental sustainability. 

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

This breakthrough in dynamic window technology may have significant implications for organisations across a spectrum of industries because it offers a dual benefit of enhanced building design and energy efficiency. Organisations may now leverage windows that automatically adjust to changing light and temperature, thereby optimising internal environments while reducing reliance on artificial climate control. This could not only improve energy efficiency, but also potentially lower operational costs related to heating, cooling, and lighting. What’s also special about this discovery is that it uses an already known technology, but dramatically improves it by using a cheap and abundant addition – water. 

Environmentally, this technology aligns with sustainability objectives, i.e. contributing substantially to lowering energy consumption by reducing the need for artificial lighting and air conditioning. This innovation could, therefore, be a step forward for organisations aiming to reduce their carbon footprint and champion environmental stewardship. 

The potential impact on occupants’ well-being is also worth noting. The ability of these windows to control glare while maintaining clear visibility could enhance comfort in workplaces and educational settings. Natural light is known to improve mood and productivity, suggesting that this innovation could lead to better work and learning environments. 

From an architectural standpoint, this technology offers new creative possibilities. Designers can now incorporate large glass structures without compromising energy efficiency or internal comfort. This not only expands design options but may also enhance the aesthetic value of buildings. 

The broader implications of this technology, as pointed out by researcher Delia Milliron, extend beyond smart windows to potentially influence areas like energy storage and conversion. This suggests that organisations within these sectors should be attentive to subsequent developments that might emerge. 

Also, while the initial implementation of this technology might require investment, the long-term benefits are substantial. Lowered energy costs, increased property value, and alignment with sustainable trends present a strong economic and strategic case for the technology. For organisations looking to position themselves as progressive and environmentally conscious, this technology could significantly enhance their market presence and public perception. 

This new dynamic window material may be more than just an advancement in smart windows, and could provide a gateway to greater energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, improved occupant comfort, architectural innovation, and a broader and beneficial technological impact.

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