Tintable glass maker expanding with DOE help

Siemens Wind Turbine Facility, Hutchinson, Kansas (photo via SageGlass)

The long, glass facade on the front of Siemens’ wind turbine component factory in Hutchinson, Kansas, could have been a window for the long, hot summer sun to cook the building’s interior, or at least run up a serious air conditioning bill.

Instead, as the sunlight intensifies, the panes of glass gradually tint like sunglasses to block out the heat and glare but preserve the view and some daylight.

The magic happens thanks to a thin, electrochromatic coating on the glass made by a Minnesota company called SageGlass.

SageGlass has been producing its energy-saving, electronically tintable glass in Faribault, Minn., in small runs since 2005. Now, the company is gearing up to open a high-volume, 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility by the end of the year.

Midwest Energy News spoke with the company’s CEO, John Van Dine, last month to find out how the expansion is coming along.

The building’s exterior is complete. The progress can be seen in a timelapse video SageGlass posted on YouTube in December. About half of the equipment has been installed inside, and the rest has been ordered and is expected in time to open later this year, said Van Dine. Meanwhile, the company has intensified its sales and marketing efforts in hopes of having customers ready when it can boost production.

Van Dine founded the company in New York in 1989. After a decade and a half of research and development, he moved the company to the Midwest to be in what he calls the “Silicon Valley of windows.” Companies like 3M, Andersen Windows and Marvin Windows and Doors are all a short drive from its Faribault headquarters and manufacturing plant.

SageGlass’ expansion will more than quadruple its manufacturing space. The growth is being financed in part by a $31 million Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit and a $72 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. The latter comes from the same program that bet on Solyndra, whose bankruptcy has politicized the loan program.

Van Dine says it’s disappointing that the Solyndra situation occurred, but the political fallout hasn’t affected SageGlass’ project.

“It just sounds like things weren’t done correctly. I can tell you that is certainly not the case with Sage. A tremendous amount of oversight, scrutiny, due diligence and analysis by the DOE has gone into the Sage project,” Van Dine said. The aftermath has probably frustrated some, “but it hasn’t at this point affected our project.”

Research by the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study has concluded that SageGlass windows have potential to reduce a building’s heating and air conditioning costs by up to 25 percent. The windows allow sunshine to warm a building’s interior during the winter, but also block out solar heat and glare in the summer.

Van Dine says electronically tintable glass also gives architects a new tool to design with. Traditionally, a building with windows needed blinds or shades to manage sunlight. SageGlass can eliminate the need for those in many buildings. The Siemens building in Kansas, for example, originally was designed to have a rotating exterior shade that would block out sunlight during peak hours. The elimination of shades and blinds also has cost and sustainability impacts, Van Dine said.

“In the case of blinds and shades and sun shades, we don’t have to mine the material, we don’t have to process it, we don’t have to fabricate it, we don’t have to deliver it to the job site, we don’t have to install it, we don’t have to maintain it, and ultimately we don’t have to recycle it,” Van Dine said.

While the construction has been in progress, Van Dine said the company’s sales and marketing efforts are building awareness and interest in the technology.

“Until you had the iPhone or the iPad, you didn’t know you needed it. Once it’s in front of you and you start playing with it, experimenting with it, and most importantly experiencing it, then you start to say ‘I can’t live without it,'” Van Dine said. “I think there’s some of that phenomenon going on with regards to electronically tintable glass.”

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