Professor Huijun Zhao, Griffith’s Centre for Clean Environment and Energy

Low-cost smart windows that can selectively block out light and heat are on the horizon for Australia, thanks to a new research project underway at Queensland’s Griffith University.

Professor Huijun Zhao, director of Griffith’s Centre for Clean Environment and Energy, has been awarded more than $500,000 to develop smart windows through the Australian Research Council Linkage Program, which is designed to broker partnerships between researchers and industry, government and community organisations.

Professor Zhao’s team will work with industry partner Confirmation Australia and Nanyang Technological University Singapore to create low-cost 2D nanomaterials for smart windows that have both heat and light moderating properties. It will also investigate application techniques and integration into the glass manufacturing process.

The $1 million project will receive additional cash and in-kind support from industry partnerConfirmation Australia, which is the Australia subsidiary of a Chinese company that produces glass and glass coatings.

Professor Zhao said the development would have significant energy impacts for buildings through savings to HVAC and lighting.

“This is particularly important for office buildings, hotels and schools where the energy consumption for heating, ventilation and airconditioning and lighting are more than 70 per cent of the total energy consumption,” he said.

Professor Zhao said that energy exchange through conventional windows was almost 10 times that of insulated walls, with energy wastage from windows accounting for more than 50 per cent of HVAC energy consumption, particularly in summer and winter.

With Australia’s penchant for glazing, new solutions to reduce this wastage could have big overall effects. 

A particular focus of the project is making sure the Australian manufacturing industry can be engaged, with the project investigating how the new materials can be integrated into glass manufacturing process.

One of the researchers, Dr Yulin Zhong, told The Fifth Estate the aim of the project was to lower the cost of producing smart windows through the creating of a functional material in the form of an ink that could be coated over a large surface, via techniques such as screen printing or spray coating.

Confirmation Australia, based in Victoria, would build up its Australia manufacturing plant to be able to demonstrate this.

“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 environment,” Professor Zhao said.

These smart windows will incorporate thermochromic (moderating heat) and electrochromic (moderating light) functionalities, though Professor Zhao said smart windows were increasingly able to perform other tasks. 

“With the advancement of materials science and the Internet of Things, smart windows will be more prevalent and will be important in building automation and energy management,” he said.

“Smart windows can offer several dynamic functions such as self-cleaning, thermochromics and solar harvesting, and user-controlled functions such as heating, electrochromics and interactive display.”

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  1. There already are glass coatings that improve heat transfer and shading coefficient. All of them cut down visible light transmission – which is a negative. It is not really clear from the article what is this research trying to achieve – if it is just another light and heat cutting product, what is so sensational about it? Sure, it may be technically better, but what we need is something that can keep all the light, but reduce heat.