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UCLA Engineering researchers have received $1.2 million from the Department of Energy to improve the efficiency of existing single-pane windows in commercial and residential buildings. The federal agency’s goal is to accelerate the development of materials that could cut in half the amount of heat lost through single-pane windows.

The UCLA team is developing a transparent coating that can reduce the transfer of heat from one side of the window to the other, and better resist condensation that leads to mold and other forms of building damage. The project is called Thermally Insulating Transparent Barrier (THINNER) Coatings for Single-Pane Windows.

Laurent Pilon, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, is the lead researcher on the project. Others include Bruce Dunn, the Nippon Sheet Glass Company Chair in Materials Science; Yongjie Hu, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Sarah Tolbert, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry who holds a joint appointment in materials science and engineering.

On Wednesday, DOE announced $31 million in Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) funding for 14 projects in the new SHIELD (Single-Pane Highly Insulating Efficient Lucid Design) effort to improve window efficiency. In addition to UCLA, institutions leading SHIELD research projects include UC San Diego, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Argonne National Laboratory in in Illinois and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

“Our team is combining expertise in nanomaterials, optics, and thermal sciences to create a new transparent and insulating multilayer nanoporous titania/silica coating for windowpanes,” Pilon said. “In order to ensure that the process is scalable, we are also developing a high temperature spray-on application process that is compatible with the operations of conventional glass manufacturers.”

Many commercial and residential buildings have single-pane windows that do not insulate well. However, cost, aesthetics, and other factors often make it challenging to replace older single-pane windows with newer and more efficient ones. Retrofitting, rather than replacing, these windows can save roughly the amount of electricity needed to power 32 million U.S. homes each year, according to DOE.

“The SHIELD program illustrates ARPA-E’s commitment to supporting transformational technologies,” said ARPA-E Director Ellen D. Williams. “By creating novel materials to retrofit existing single-pane windows, SHIELD technologies can dramatically improve building efficiency and save energy costs for building owners and occupants.”

The THINNER project is part of UCLA’s Sustainable L.A. Grand Challenge, and is key to meeting Sustainable L.A.’s goal of transitioning Los Angeles to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent locally sourced water and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050.

To read the Department of Energy release on the SHIELD Project, click here.

Photo caption: Scanning electron microscope image of the UCLA nanoporous titania/silica coating material that can improve the energy-efficiency of windows.