An Alternative to Switchable Glass
Car-owners have long been vexed with the issue of finding sheltered parking spaces to prevent being trapped in stifling heat after returning to their vehicles. The available solution in the market currently is switchable glass, which applies voltage to change from opaque to clear. However, at $100 per square foot, it is not the most economical solution for most car-owners.
From Clear to Reflective
Researchers from the University of Delaware have found a more viable solution, with windows that can switch from clear to reflective with the addition of a liquid. This technology could potentially applied to cars and energy-efficient buildings. The smart glass is made of a 3D printed plastic panel consisting of a pattern of retro-reflective structures which directs light back to the originating direction. The structures become transparent when filled with methyl salicylate to match the plastic’s optical properties.
“We expect our smart glass to cost one tenth of what current smart glass costs because our version can be manufactured with the same methods used to make many plastic parts and does not require complicated electro-optic technology for switching,” Keith W. Goossen with the University of Delaware said.
Ease of Prototyping with 3D Printing
A Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D printer was used to fabricate the plastic panels, complete with the complex repeating retro-reflective structures instead of traditional molding techniques.
“Without 3D printing, we would have had to use a molding technology, which requires building a different mold for every different structure. With 3D printing, we could easily make whatever structure we wanted and then run experiments to see how it performed,” said Goossen. “For commercial production, we can use standard injection molding to inexpensively make the retro-reflective panels.”
Potential Solution for Homes and Offices
The smart glass is also not simply cheaper than switchable glass, but also more efficient at creating energy-efficient homes and offices. As Goosen explains, “You can’t use today’s commercially available switchable glass for this application because in the darkened state the glass still absorbs sunlight and becomes hot. Because our glass is retroreflective in the non-transparent state, almost all the light is reflected, keeping the glass, and thus the car, from getting hot.” For countries such as Singapore where it is sunny all year long, this technology can reduce cooling costs significantly.
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