Emerging Technologies: In the Quest for Innovation, What Comes Next?

By Dave Cooper

I was fortunate to be selected as a peer reviewer for the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office (BTO) innovation funding proposals. Reviewers attend presentations given by technology teams vying for grant funding to fuel research and development. Following each presentation, we submit a merit scorecard with comments, evaluating each technology. BTO includes reviewer scores in their assessments for selecting the most promising technologies to award funding.

What kind of exciting new technologies are on the horizon? Although I am not allowed to discuss the specifics of any team or embodiment, they can be listed in terms of generic categories.

Vacuum Insulating Glass (VIG): Several teams are working on VIG design variants. This product provides a step-change in center of glass thermal performance by replacing the gas-filled air space in typical insulating glass (IG) with a vacuum-induced void.

Thin Triple Insulating Glass: By replacing the inner lite of glass with the same glass found in flat-panel televisions, thin-triple technologies allow for triple-pane insulating glass units (IGU) that fit into a standard dual-pane glazing pocket, improving thermal performance.

Aerogel Insulating Glass (IG) Cavity and Window Frame Fill: This technology replaces traditional gas filling with aerogel—a highly insulative “solid” material that’s comprised of nearly 100% air. The promise includes very low thermal conductivity. Sunlight Heat Harvesting: Heat harvesting relies on a transparent glass product to provide heat to a building at night.

Photovoltaic (PV) Energy Generation: Like traditional solar panels, transparent PV glass will produce electricity.

Thermally-Improved Window Frames: Advancements in window frame insulation boosts thermal performance, thus improving overall U-factor ratings for windows.

Process for Noble Gas Production: The aim here includes processes that reduce the cost of krypton for IG gas filling.

Rapid Window Installation: As the name implies, goals include solutions for installing windows faster and easier.

Nearly all these technologies strive to improve or augment a window’s thermal performance or energy harvesting, except for one that optimizes the window installation process. Investing in these innovations is vital to our industry’s future. We strive to keep up with—or surpass—other parts of the world that are investing more funds into these areas, such as China and Europe. All of the technologies reviewed promise a monetary payback.

I’ve been told that current BTO funding is skewed toward “shovel-ready” technologies, as opposed to pure R&D. That’s not a bad thing, but we must continue efforts that bring innovative advancements to our products—now and into the future. As we know, the technological clock-speed for glass and fenestration is much slower than many others. But with proper investment, many of these exciting innovations will make it past the pilot-plant stage and gain wide acceptance by our industry.

Dave Cooper is a consultant and president of Fenestration Consulting Services LLC.

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DWM Magazine

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