Can Energy-Efficient Windows Revive U.S. Glass Manufacturing?

Can Energy-Efficient Windows Revive U.S. Glass Manufacturing?

Ramped-up manufacturing of ‘dynamic’ glass technologies could bring domestic jobs back to a long-suffering industry

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

Glassmaking in America has been in decline for at least a decade as manufacturers have moved production to China and other emerging economies. But can the green-buildings movement spark a revival?

Makers of a new class of energy-efficient “dynamic” windows are establishing factories in the United States. Helping to drive this growth spurt is a new generation of U.S. architects and builders, who are looking beyond solar panels, light-colored roofs and other staple sustainability solutions to meet the growing demand for green housing and commercial buildings.

Rao Mulpuri, CEO of “smart” glass company Soladigm, said the nation’s glassworkers and suppliers are eager for a homegrown product that can give the industry a competitive edge over foreign manufacturers of low-cost traditional windows.

“The industry needs a product like this,” he said.

Mulpuri’s startup in Milpitas, Calif., makes dynamic window systems that can be programmed to tint glass on demand to reduce solar glare, substantially cutting buildings’ lighting, heating and air-conditioning costs.

With funds from Khosla Ventures and GE Energy, the company is turning its California pilot factory into a $130 million facility in Olive Branch, Miss., near Memphis. The new plant will employ 330 people and could start selling and shipping Soladigm glass in early 2012.

Earlier this month, Soladigm’s glass came out unscathed after a rigorous durability test by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The lab used a supercomputer to create a simulation of how the windows would perform and appear after several decades of real-world use.

Soladigm and Sage Electrochromics are the only two dynamic glass companies to have met the durability standard, a validation that gives confidence to U.S. builders who are considering hefty upfront investments in the glass as they seek coveted green certification.

The firms are part of a still-small $5 million global dynamic glass market that is projected to reach $418 million by 2020 on rising demand for green buildings, according to an August report by Boston-based Lux Research.

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