e-Chromic Technologies’ founder and chief executive Loren Burnett says the Department of Energy estimates that there are 19.5 billion square feet of windows in the United States alone that could benefit from his company’s energy-saving thin film. Joel Blocker/For BizWest

E-Chromic Technologies taps next-generation smart windows for homes, vehicles

Sunlight streaming through the window generally heats up a room, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. 

If it’s cold outside, for example, the added heat helps the heating system keep the inside comfortable with less of an added push.

When it’s hot outside, however, the extra heat puts an added strain on the air-conditioning system. In turn, both the amount of CO2 being released into the environment and the heating bill increases.

Current technology for smart or electrochromic windows has addressed the problems by regulating the amount of sunlight that can penetrate window glass. These windows basically control the amount of light and heat that can enter a room by changing from light to dark – clear to opaque – and absorbing the sunlight that is converted to heat.

To isolate the heat and prevent it from defeating the purpose and emitting the heat inside the building on a bright sunny day in summer, the windows are double paned with a thin layer of gas in between.

When heat is needed, the glass returns to a clear state so sunlight can enter and decrease the load on heating systems.

The upside of smart windows is that they reduce electric bills, the need for curtains and blinds and the amount of environmental damage caused by air conditioners. Still, the windows have drawbacks, including the cost to install them and the time it takes for them to go from transparent to opaque.

Seasoned entrepreneur Loren Burnett, e-Chromic Technologies’ founder and chief executive, is leading a team that’s on-target for increasing the benefits of smart windows by decreasing those drawbacks.

One of the snags for current smart window technology is that retrofitting an existing window requires replacing the entire window. The cost limits the switch-over to new construction or major building rehab projects, according to Burnett.

The technology his company is developing uses different principles to regulate how much and when sunlight heat can pass through a window. Rather than absorbing the sunlight and isolating the heat, the proprietary electrochromic thin film turns diffusely reflective when activated. 

Department of Energy models indicate that the reflective technology will deliver 43 percent greater energy savings than state-of-the-art absorptive technologies at less than half the cost, according to Burnett.

Instead of requiring replacement of an entire window unit with one that is constructed with the current smart window technology, the electrochromic film that Burnett’s company expects to have on the market in 2017 is applied directly to existing windows.

Because of the savings and the need for environmentally-friendly ways of reducing energy bills, revenue potential for e-Chromic Technologies’ product is solid. Burnett said the DOE estimates that there are about 19.5 billion square feet of windows in the United States, with about 90 percent of them in commercial buildings being inefficient energy containers.

“Our value proposition is that we can reduce air conditioning usage and the amount of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by about 35 percent,” Burnett said.  “And we are 60 percent lower priced than other smart window technology because we just put a film on existing windows.

“Plus it takes about 10 minutes for current smart windows to go from dark to transparent, and it takes less than 60 seconds for ours to go from transparent to reflective.”

In addition to e-Chromic’s better odds for being used to retrofit both commercial and residential building windows because of cost, the technology is attracting automakers, Burnett said. Since the new technology has wider application abilities, it can fit car windows and provide the same benefits it provides for building windows.

“Auto windows all have curvature but we can bend,” Burnett said. “Since the air conditioning runs off the battery in electric cars and we can reduce the load by 35 percent, we can increase the range of a vehicle.”

Drivers can turn off the reflective mode in winter and reduce the load on a heater as well.

Additionally, rather than turning dark as does current smart window technology, Burnett’s technology keeps the windows clear regardless of which mode they’re in.

The reflective electrochromic technology was invented at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. Burnett’s company has an exclusive license with NREL to develop and commercialize the patented technology.

With a background that includes running software technology companies for the last 20 years, Burnett started looking for his next technology-transfer opportunity in 2010 and was introduced to NREL. He licensed the technology in 2011.

“I was looking for technology that was not another me-too, something with large market opportunities that wouldn’t take 10 years and $100 million to start and something I could get my head around,” he said.

“For the first three years we were in NREL labs and paying them to use their talent and equipment to do our development,” he added. “In September 2014, we moved into a lab in northern California.”

Sunlight streaming through the window generally heats up a room, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. 

If it’s cold outside, for example, the added heat helps the heating system keep the inside comfortable with less of an added push.

When it’s hot outside, however, the extra heat puts an added strain on the air-conditioning system. In turn, both the amount of CO2 being released into the environment and the heating bill increases.

Current technology for smart or electrochromic windows has addressed the problems by regulating the amount of sunlight that can penetrate window glass. These windows basically control the amount of light and heat that can enter a room by changing from light to dark – clear to opaque – and absorbing the sunlight that is converted to heat.

To isolate the heat and prevent it from defeating the purpose and emitting the heat inside the building on a bright sunny day in summer, the windows are double paned with a thin layer of gas in between.

When heat is needed, the glass returns to a clear state so sunlight can enter and decrease the load on heating systems.

The upside of smart windows is that they reduce electric bills, the need for curtains and blinds and the amount of environmental damage caused by air conditioners. Still, the windows have drawbacks, including the cost to install them and the time it takes for them to go from transparent…