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Scientists develop self-cleaning windows that cut energy bills and increase productivity

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Posted January 21, 2016

Cleaning windows at home is quite an exhausting task. But imagine what cleaning skyscrapers is like. To solve this problem and to reduce heating bills and increase worker productivity scientists from UCL developed a new type of ‘smart’ window. It is inspired by nature and used revolutionary nanostructures to give it unique characteristics.

As often is the case, scientists looked at nature for inspiration. Nanostructures that give glass its unique properties were inspired by eyes of the moth. Image credit: ucl.ac.uk.

As often is the case, scientists looked at nature for inspiration. Nanostructures that give glass its unique properties were inspired by eyes of the moth. Image credit: ucl.ac.uk.

Scientists looked at eyes of moths for inspiration to develop glass that does not need cleaning, does not glare as much and saves energy. Developers of the smart glass already made the prototype and confirmed that all three benefits of it work as was intended. Dr Ioannis Papakonstantinou, project leader, said: “this is the first time that a nanostructure has been combined with a thermochromic coating. The bio-inspired nanostructure amplifies the thermochromics properties of the coating and the net result is a self-cleaning, highly performing smart window”.

Window is self-cleaning, because of conical nanostructures engraved onto the glass. They trap air and make window extremely resistant to water. Rain droplets roll down the glass, picking up the dirt and dust. On normal glass water droplets cling to the surface, slide down slowly and leave a mark behind. Because of a very thin coat of vanadium dioxide these windows also save energy, as this 5-10 nanometre film prevents heat loss in winter and protects building from infrared radiation in summer.

There are energy-saving windows now too, but they use more expensive materials and are not as sustainable. Finally, smart windows are said to boost worker productivity, because of their anti-glare properties. Nanostructures, inspired by the eyes of moths and other creatures that have evolved to hide from predators, cut the amount of light reflected internally in a room to less than 5%. For comparison, current energy-saving windows rate at 20-30%.

These smart windows are all about saving money. Scientists say that in tall buildings cleaning windows is extremely costly. In fact, cleaning bills in first five years may be equal to the original cost of the windows. Therefore, new smart windows would have a demand in the market as tall glass skyscrapers are as popular as ever. Furthermore, it has been calculated that these windows are able to save up to 40% of heating bills. And, of course, increased comfort in the workplace would mean that workers would feel better. Therefore, productivity would increase.

So far scientists are still developing the prototypes. They are estimating that this product should reach the market within around 3-5 years. Furthermore, they are already thinking about a different product – a smart film that would have the same nanostructures and would give the conventional glass the same properties. Now we have to wait and see if this glass will revolutionize skyscraper building and maintenance in the near future.

Source: UCL

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