Smart windows that go from clear to dark in under a minute

Stanford University engineers have developed dynamic windows that can switch from transparent to opaque or back again in under a minute and do not degrade over time. The prototypes are plates of conductive glass outlined with metal ions that spread out over the surface, blocking light, in response to electrical current. The group recently filed a patent for the work, presented August 9 in the journal Joule, Cell Press's new publication for energy research and green technology.

Dynamic windows have the potential to transform our homes, businesses, cars, and more, reducing heating and cooling costs or the need for blinds, but even though the technology exists, it has yet to really catch on in the marketplace. Smart windows already being sold, such as those used on airlines, are made of materials, such as tungsten oxide, that change color when charged with electricity. But these materials tend to be expensive, have a blue tint, can take over 20 minutes to dim, and become less opaque over time.

"We did not tweak what was out there, we came up with a completely different solution," says senior author Michael McGehee, a Stanford University professor of materials science and engineering with a background in solar cells. "We've had a lot of moments where we've thought, 'how is it even possible that we've made something that works so well, so quickly,' and we're now running the technology by glass and other kinds of companies."

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