Gel-filled windows cut energy costs

Published: March 3, 2016

Science & Tech Editor

With rising energy costs, many are on the lookout for a way to save energy and money. Those committed to becoming or remaining “green” always seek out new technology to cut their environmental footprint.

Xuhong Guo, Ph.D., of the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai, China has come up with a new polymer that may help to cut heating and cooling costs by automatically shading windows. The windows contain a polymer that reacts differently depending on the temperature of the environment around the window.

The window is designed to hold a gel like substance between two panes of glass. This substance remains clear when the temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows ample light to pass through and contribute to heating the room. When the temperature rises, the opacity of the glass decreases, allowing less light in.

The substance that rests between the panes of glass is a colloid. A colloid is a substance in which tiny particles or droplets do not dissolve in the material. The tiny particles are spread around throughout a much larger volume of the other material. The solvent in which the particles are suspended is a mixture of water and glycerol, a type of alcohol. This solvent is adequately polar to prevent the gel from aggregating into a blob.

The gel is a heat sensitive polymer that changes its conformation in response to temperature changes. At low temperatures, the polymer assumes a long, thin shape in order to allow the maximum amount of light into the room. When the temperature rises, the polymers coil into balls to block light. Studies conducted by Guo have shown that the polymers can block up to 25 percent of the light and heat directed at the window. This was enough to lower the temperature behind the glass by 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Guo admits that this is just the start of what this gel can do. They hope to get the gel to absorb even more light. He noted that when they added particles of vanadium oxide, the gel absorbed 40 percent of the light.

They also hope to add finer control of the shading of the windows. They already can alter the temperature in which shading occurs by altering the glycerol content of the solvent.

While still in the developmental stage, innovations like this will play a large role in green energy in the future. At a university committed to being green, we have an obligation to stay up to date on all upcoming green technology.

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