Electrochromic (smart) glass is glass with variable optical transparency – its light transmission properties can be altered by applying voltage, changing its color and opacity. The material is used on building facades, with controls connected to the building’s management system, or car windows. The smart glass market is one of the fastest growing markets now, with its CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) ranging from 40% to 80%, depending on the segment – such markets can be counted on one hand. In 2017, it amounted to $288 mio, and in 2018, to $450 mio, according to a major global consultancy’s report; it is expected to reach $9 bln by 2022.
Three large companies – View, Sage Electrochromics and Halio – and a few smaller ones are currently operating in the smart glass market. Total investment in View has reached $1.7 bln – the company closed its latest investment round at $1.1 bln in November 2018. This confirms that investors are really banking on this market, eagerly investing in its fast expansion.
Yet, its further development is being held back by the high cost of production. Making electrochromic glass is a complex technological process. As it is an active system, several layers (usually 7-8) need to be applied to the glass using a magnetron in a vacuum. The resulting high-tech product needs to be of high quality and longevity, which implies that many specific parameters have to be met.
In 2018, the market of smart glass was worth $66 mio (for R&D) and is expected to grow to $1.3 bln by 2022. Major producers are investing large funds in the market. At the moment, three major glass producers operate in the market, namely Corning, Saint-Gobain and AGC. Other companies are observing the market without making any investment. If major producers enter the market and implement this technology they will be able to get a low production cost which means that the product in the market will dramatically go down in value hence the expectation that the market will grow.
There are several reasons why large companies are already using smart glass. First, no need to buy blinds to get more privacy.
Second, smart glass is trendy, esthetically beautiful and prestigious. For example, electrochromatic glass is installed in some business centers and headquarters of large corporations. It is an expensive technology. Right now 1 sq m of glass costs $800. However, some companies use smart glass to build the entire façade because of its high-tech appearance and because the smart system darkens only those fragments of the façade that are exposed to bright sunlight.
Third, the technology is associated with energy-saving, which will drive the smart glass market in the next few years. Electrochromatic glass saves energy in two ways. Tinted glass allows less heat in; therefore, in hot climates air conditioning is less necessary.
Also, in building construction and the design of the ventilation and AC systems, if the building has windows with variable optical transparency, the requirements for the ventilation system would be eased, which would allow for saving at least 30%. As this technology gets cheaper, it would be much more feasible to make electrochromatic facades than change the load on the ventilation and AC systems. At the same time it is important to consider environmental impact of air conditioners. Large companies are concerned about that so they would happily use the new technology.
New smart glass technologies are currently being developed to make glass change its transparency not only in the visible spectrum, but also in the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums; such glass will cut off thermal and harmful UV rays and have several operation modes. Such technologies already exist. In the future, probably, the price will drop and the marketed product will cost just several dozens of dollars. It will happen sooner or later, and all glass will become smart glass.
No market needs a product that cannot last 15 to 20 years
No alternative technologies are available. There are attempts to use liquid crystals and suspended particles. I am referring to the polymer-dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) and suspended particle device (SPD) technologies, which are used for facades, among others. These attempts are unsuccessful as organic glass provides for a considerably lesser operating cycle and sunlight destroys it; no one can guarantee that these technologies will last 15-20 years, and no developer will invest in a building facade that cannot serve reliably during the building payback period.
With their large number of switching cycles, View and Sage products have proven effective; they have been available in the market for quite some time. Their eventual degradation is obvious – but these are products that get the market going, and this market will advance. Once again, markets with such growth dynamics are very few and far between. We expect a considerable amount of investment and the interest to the market to dynamically grow.
By Andrei Redkin, CEO, Comberry (ULNANOTECH Ulyanovsk nanotechnology center)