Resnick Institute

2015 Resonate Award Winners

Delia J. Milliron

Resonate Award recipient for leveraging nanomaterials to improve the carbon reduction capabilities of smart windows.

The Challenge

Buildings account for 40% of energy consumed in the U.S. and much of it is wasted due to poor management of day lighting and thermal losses because of inefficient windows. Each day this costs the U.S. economy about $100M and the energy wasted is equivalent to the output of over 400 coal-fired power plants. Windows capable of blocking sunlight in a dynamic fashion exist and can help mitigate the problem, however they primarily modulate only visible light and therefore cannot control the large thermal loads arising from solar infrared (heat). Therefore a major challenge in buildings has been to design a dynamic smart window material that can adapt to changing weather by managing transmission of both visible and infrared energy, and do it all at an affordable price.

The Response

Delia’s group has designed dynamic smart windows that allow building occupants to have better control over the amount of heat and the brightness of light that enters their structures; saving heating, cooling, and lighting costs. To do this, they’ve created transparent window coatings that incorporate infrared-blocking nanocrystals. The coatings can be applied using inexpensive techniques similar to spray-painting a car. Windows with these coatings, along with a simple control system, have the potential to dramatically enhance energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption throughout the commercial and residential building sectors, while making building occupants more comfortable.

The Future

The combination of controlling infrared and visible light transmission on demand, plus lower manufacturing cost paves the way for commercial success and a substantial reduction in energy impact. Recognizing the potential of this technology, private and public funds exceeding $6M has been committed to it. If successful, the low-cost window coatings will yield a 5-fold reduction in the cost of "smart window" production, enabling more consumers to adopt the technology and drive down building energy consumption. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings reduces pressure on the electrical grid, improving its stability and also reducing the nation's dependence on imported oil for heating. Better building efficiency also limits electricity and fuel consumption; saving money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.