So much more than a window
High-performance, energy efficient glass is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as far as technological innovation is concerned in the glass and glazing industries, writes NIGEL CARPENTER from the Australian Glass and Glazing Association (AGGA).
The status of glass as a key element of modern architecture is hardly a revelation. Architects, building designers and homeowners have long been using glass to turn ordinary spaces into outstanding, light-filled living environments that evoke a sense of spaciousness and take advantage of views.
In recent years, glass has also earned a reputation for its performance capabilities, specifically its ability to improve building energy efficiency and enhance occupant comfort. Impressive as all this may sound, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the most newly developed technical features of glass. As glass companies invest heavily in research and development, glass is evolving from a simple building material into an intelligent component that can change the way we live.
Just recently, Corning, a US manufacturer of speciality glass and other materials, released the video A Day Made of Glass (see website link below), which depicts a world where interactive glass surfaces and technology combine to allow people to carry out everyday activities. While some of the applications depicted in the video may be futuristic, there is no doubt that glass and innovation go hand in hand. With the video notching up more than six million views on YouTube in one week alone, it seems the public is starting to get excited about glass.
Ordinary glass is old technology. These days there’s a growing range of performance glass that can offer so much more than many people are aware of, for applications that most people wouldn’t traditionally associate with glass. Glass provides a solution for a range of everyday issues, such as thermal comfort, solar control, noise control and even security.
Brian Perkins, from Melbourne’s Fethers Architectural, agrees. He says that glass is not only becoming more energy efficient, it is also becoming more intelligent. Examples include glazing systems that are electronically tinted, incorporating Low-E (emissivity) insulating glass that changes from clear to dark grey, and all with the push of a button or on command from a building management control system. It allows for both passive solar heat gain in winter and minimises solar heat gain in summer. In its tinted state, it significantly reduces glare, which is ideal for late summer evenings facing west. “It is a far more appealing solution than using mechanical window shades and blinds,” Perkins reports. “Such conventional options may block out glare, but they’ll also block views to the outside world.”
Suitable for windows, skylights and curtain walls, this glass is already installed in hundreds of buildings, and with the construction of the world’s largest and most advanced electrochromic glass manufacturing facility underway in the US, higher production volumes will make this technology more affordable for all.
In Queensland, the firm G James Glass is constantly researching new energy-efficient glass innovations. Together with the US-based PVB manufacturer Solutia, G James has developed an interlayer that uses nanoparticles to reduce heat transfer by scattering the light and reducing the direct transfer of energy into the building. Glass, according to G James’ research and development manager Gavan Harrop, has become a multipurpose building material. Architects, he says, are always going to consider aesthetic criteria when selecting glass, but now they can meet performance objectives at the same time. “We’re constantly working on expanding our energy-efficient glass range, which includes improving existing products and creating unique colours that enhance the palette available to architects and designers without sacrificing performance.”
Currently, G James’ coatings are being used for research into transparent photovoltaic solar cells, which, if successful, could eventually see transparent windows acting as solar panels. Moreover, Australia’s only local glass manufacturer, Viridian, is now manufacturing world-class, energy-efficient coated products specifically suited to Australia’s unique climatic conditions. Lachlan Austin, national marketing manager – Viridian, says these CVD-coated (chemical vapour deposition) products, which provide the maximum level of thermal efficiency, will go a long way to ensuring compliance with more stringent energy building regulations. Though energy efficiency is the highest priority at present, Austin says he believes that these applications are only scratching the surface of what the pyrolytic coating process has to offer. “Online coating allows the glass we make to take on a wide range of new properties, essentially at the flick of a switch – different optical, electrical, physical and even biological properties are possible,” he says.
“Innovation is now often being led by the unique specification of the glass type and window systems combined – to improve thermal performance, save lives and properties in high-risk bushfire regions, address improved occupant safety, reduce noise in city dwellings and even combine colour and art in glass.”
AGGA has recently launched a new website (www.agga.org.au), which features a dedicated consumer section to enable users to learn about the benefits of glass.
The site aims to provide an easy-to-use resource for consumers that will enable them to find out more about the difference glass can make and its potential applications. As well as information on using glass to achieve greater energy efficiency and the different types of glass, the site features a directory that allows consumers to quickly find the glass, glazier or services and products they need in their area.
Nigel Carpenter is the executive director of AGGA. AGGA is a member-based association representing glaziers, glass processers, wholesalers, importers, manufacturers and suppliers. The association aims to heighten awareness of the benefits glass can provide, including increased energy efficiency, improved safety and outstanding design freedom.