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Capturing light, controlling heat

The Molecular Foundry where I work is the nanoscience center here at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

My research relates to the use of nanocrystals, or really tiny crystals of inorganic materials for various energy application. We've been really interested in how to use nanocrystals as coatings on windows to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

The most benefit for energy efficiency with our coatings would probably come from homes because that's where you can take most advantage of the solar heat gain coming from the sun. There are properties, the way they interact with the sunlight coming through the window, can be changed in response to what's going on outside, whether it's sunny or cloudy or hot or cold. Also talk to people who might want to put it in their greenhouses for example, where it's very important to keep the temperature in a narrow range, but you really want all of the light for photosynthesis of the plants inside. Thermal control satellites, we've heard people be interested, so I think there are a number of other possibilities for this technology.

Our coatings are made entirely from solution and that's all the way from the synthesis of the materials to actually preparing the coatings on the glass. We've created a robot in the last couple of years. We're really able to produce very regular batches of nanocrystals. So, to actually make our coatings we use what's called a spin coater and this holds your piece of glass and you put your solution of nanocrystals on it and then spin it around to spread it into a nice thin layer.As it continues to spin, the solution dries and that leaves behind your thin film of nanocrystals. It's more or less like spin art that you might have done as a kid with a piece of paper and paints that you can spread on them.

So, the windows test facility is a laboratory here at LBNL where they can install full-size prototypes of new types of windows containing all different coatings on the market. We hope eventually to have the kind of large-scale prototypes that could go into that kind of facility.

A big issue for new window coating technologies is to make sure that the cost is low enough that it's available to all the people that might want to buy it and improve the efficiency of their buildings. So, we're really excited about our technology using a solution-based process because it has the potential to bring the cost down to the point where it can be deployed broadly in the market.