The concept of smart glass is not new and in fact has been around for decades. This so-called “smart” glass has the ability to adjust its properties in response to the surrounding environment to block out heat or light. Some of the most basic smart glass applications are a self-tinting rearview car mirror or eyeglasses that adjust to sunlight. It is proving beneficial in construction applications because it can save costs for heating or air conditioning, as well as block ultraviolet rays that may fade fabrics.
Powering Smart Glass Windows
There are currently two main technology methods to power smart windows. Electrochromic glazing, which is powered by an electric current, offers the flexibility to be manually turned on and off, as well as programmed to respond to weather conditions. Thermochromic glazing, however, automatically darkens as the glass heats up and becomes clear again as the glass cools. Going “green” and finding more eco-friendly approaches to existing solutions is a hot topic in all industries and the evolution of smart windows has also moved in that direction. Batteries and outlet plugs are obviously not the most environmentally sensitive methods of creating power and while solar panels are definitely a step in the right direction, they can negatively impact the clarity of the glass.
The Future of Smart Glass Windows Is Found in Static
The newest form of smart glass is actually powered by static electricity, produced by friction when two materials touch. Using two layers of extremely small generators attached to the outside of a pane of glass, an electric current is emitted between the units enabling the clear window to be tinted a dark blue.
The static electricity to operate the outside layer of generators is harvested from the friction between raindrops and air. When these two materials connect, a positive charge is created within the raindrop. The positively charged droplet then interacts with the negatively charged silicone-coated glass, creating an electric current.
The inner layer of generators harvests energy from the wind. Formed by two sheets of clear plastic separated by plastic coils that compress as the wind pushes against the window, an electric current is created as the plastic sheets get closer together.
In addition to turning a dark blue color, the glass also has the ability to produce up to 130 milliwatts of electricity, enough to charge a sleeping smartphone. There are still hurdles to overcome, however, before this next generation smart glass can be commercialized, particularly the ability to store the energy created. Cost could potentially be prohibitive as well.
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