Sandia National Laboratories’ original goal was to develop a self-resetting circuit breaker using vanadium dioxide. But through the creativity and partnership of a Sandia scientist and a businessman, Sandia technology has been transferred to the private sector, and is poised to make a difference in the marketplace by reducing energy needs for consumers in the U.S.
Sandia physicist Dr. Paul Clem met a businessman with a company specializing in aerogel windows. William Kurtz told Clem that although they are great in the winter, aerogel windows get too hot in the summer. Clem thought he could adapt his thermochromic thin film material to solve this problem.
This initial discussion led to Sandia working with IR Dynamics to develop the nanoparticles into a low-cost, thermally dynamic technology that will be incorporated into a variety of products for smart regulation of solar heat. The team has developed nanoparticles that have tunable optical properties triggered by the environment. These nanomaterials transition to let the heat through when it is cold outside and reflect heat when it is warm.
At cooler temperatures, this material is a clear insulator, but when it is hotter it becomes a metal that reflects infrared (IR) radiation while still transmitting visible light.
Thermochromic materials can be tuned to transition at selected temperatures. For example, it might be best for car windows to start reflecting heat at 78°F, but another temperature might be better for other applications. By tweaking the “recipe,” the team has been able to make nanoparticles that can switch at any temperature from 200 degrees F to below zero.
To transfer the technology from Sandia to IR Dynamics and the marketplace, a variety of mechanisms have been utilized, including licenses, a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, New Mexico Small Business Assistance program projects, a User Facility Agreement, and outside consulting. Development of the first application for the technology, retrofit window films that homeowners can apply to existing windows to reduce their cooling bills, has been partially funded by a $1.95 million Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grant.
Future applications include incorporating the nanoparticles into new windows, adding them to architectural plastics such as the kind used in the Water Cube of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, or high-performance athletic clothing. Many product manufacturers are interested in IR Dynamic’s technologies because of their potential to satisfy increasing demand for energy efficiency and personal climate control. This partnership between Sandia Labs and IR Dynamics can help improve the performance of products in industries from apparel to aerospace, and increase energy efficiency in structures from greenhouses to skyscrapers.
Contact: Dr. Paul Clem, (505) 845-7544, [email protected]
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