Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
February 29th, 2024

Windows are Now More Dynamic Than Ever

I am unable to make the International Builders Show this year, but from what I gather from talking to friends that are there, glass is getting smarter every year. Dynamic glass is one of the hottest new technologies that is making its way into doors and windows. One such type of dynamic glass is dubbed “switchable” glass, and it is made by laminating polymer dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) between two glass sheets, thereby making a sheet of laminated “smart” glass.

The PDLC is opaque in its normal state. When the power is switched off, the liquid crystal molecules within the PDLC are randomly oriented thereby scattering light and keeping the smart film that is between the glass opaque for privacy. Now, when the power is switched on, the liquid crystal molecules align due to the current. This allows incident light to pass through and makes the Privacy Smart Film panel instantly transparent. The switching time is only 100 milliseconds from frosted to clear and 400 milliseconds from clear back to opaque.

This technology opens up all sorts of ways to control the system, such as remote control, smart phone apps and, of course, Alexa or Siri. SmartGlass Technologies is the company behind this patented technology and they call it “Priwatt Glass.” It is certified by Underwriters Labs and the modified interlayer has successfully passed all tests for accelerated weathering, flexural strength, ignition temperature, smoke density and rate of burn in accordance with Miami Dade. The company estimates the market to be $100 million in the U.S. alone.

Now this Priwatt Glass technology is just one type of dynamic glass. There are in fact several dynamic glass technologies on the market. The two major types are active or electrochromic, and passive or thermochromic. The Priwatt products are an example of the active type. One of the companies leading the way in passive dynamic glass is Pleotint LLC, based in Michigan, and their product is known as Suntuitive Self Tinting Glass. Suntuitive is a dynamic glass that continuously and automatically adapts its tint level in response to direct sunlight, and no electric circuitry is required. For this reason, it is known as the “passive dynamic glass.”

Since Suntuitive is solar-powered and doesn’t depend on any other power sources, it will continue to provide tint in the event that the power grid goes out. Pleotint feels that its passive thermochromic technology therefore provides a greater degree of survivability, making it more resilient even in the event of power outages, and brown outs. Ironically, Pleotint’s founder, Harlan Byker, an inventor whose name is on at least 53 U.S. patents, invented the chemistry portion of the first commercially successful electrochromic device—an automatic dimming rear view mirror that many of us have in our cars and trucks. More than 10% of all vehicles built in the world today incorporate one or more electrochromic mirror with the chemistry he invented. But since then he has focused on the passive side of dynamic glass.

Another type of active dynamic glass technology hitting the window scene over the last few years is called Reversible Metal Electrodeposition, and this is being developed and commercialized by the team at Tynt Technologies. It promises to be more color neutral than standard electrochromic methods, and it offers variable degrees of tinting from partial tint to complete privacy. The founders believe they can offer a lower-cost dynamic glass solution. I found this presentation by Mike McGehee to be quite informative about this technology compared to the other flavors of dynamic glass. McGehee is Tynt’s chief scientist, and he does a nice job in this presentation which is now six years old but still very relevant.

So, what else can we call upon windows to do for us, other than allow us to control the dynamics of light transmission, infrared and ultraviolet radiation into our homes? Well, there are three other areas that come to mind. For one, engineers are working on ways to make windows that can harness solar power to generate electricity. Secondly, windows can generate sound power and can be used as part of a loudspeaker system. Thirdly, smart films are being developed that can be translucent for viewing but can also be “switched” to display a work of art. How cool is that? These three areas will be the topics of future blogs so stay tuned. The windows of the future will be more dynamic than ever!

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