Sage gains momentum with energy-efficient glass (Video)

| by Teena Hammond
Sage gains momentum with energy-efficient glass (Video)

Imagine glass that darkens and lightens at the touch of a button. At Sage Electrochromics, based in Faribault, Minn., this glass is a reality.

The clear glass panes have five layers of a thin, transparent ceramic glaze that is less than 1/50th the thickness of a human hair. When a user flips a switch, a small electric voltage is applied to the glaze and the glass morphs to a grayish-blue tint. When the button is pushed again, the glass lightens. This process can reduce peak energy demand in a commercial building by 20 percent to 30 percent, according to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 2005, Sage began selling the glass for residential applications.

The demand for this glass is so high that Sage is building a new 324,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Faribault that is scheduled to begin producing electrochromic glass by the fourth quarter of 2012. When it's completed, the plant will be the largest electrochromic glass manufacturing plant in the world, reducing the cost of the glass and making it available in high volumes and in large commercial architectural sizes.

Lou Podbelski, vice president of architectural solutions for Sage, said one of the benefits of the glass, which is also known as dynamic glass, is that it can block out solar heat gain without blocking the view. "There's no other product or technology that can really do that and still give you a view to the outdoors, which is why you put the glass in your building in the first place. Folks are also using it to control the light," he said.

The cost of this glass is approximately one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half times as much as an installed window with low-e glass. "But I have to emphasize 'at this point in time,'" Podbelski said. "The cost is dropping all the time. Once our new plant is built, we will get better at our efficiencies at building the product, and as the price comes down, the mainstream market will be able to adopt it."

"The use is growing in residential. Right now we find most of the residential homes that use it are green, sustainable homes that want to either get the certificate or want to have a green house. That's where additionally we're seeing most of the use residentially as kind of a higher-end residential home," he said.

Originally, the glass was available in only one tint, as the glass changed from clear to dark. Now there is a new version available that features two intermediate tints in between clear and fully tinted. "People really like the ability to have a variable tint. The first level of tint is pretty light to the point where most people think they're looking at a piece of clear glass," he said.

Sage electrochromic glass is in place around the country, including the Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta, where various technologies are tested in order to determine their potential for use.

Sage is also advancing its partnership with Saint-Gobain, one of the world's largest glass and construction material manufacturers. Saint-Gobain made an $80 million investment in Sage last year to make dynamic glass affordable to the mass market.

In addition, Sage was selected as a 2011 New Energy Pioneer by Bloomberg New Energy. This program spotlights companies making significant gains in the field of clean technology and innovation.

For more information, see our Energy Efficient Windows research center.

Topics: Building Green, Windows

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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