Profile in Innovation: This article is one in a series that will highlight new and innovative technologies and profile people making a mark in support of the passive house community’s efforts to decarbonize buildings.
The glass industry is getting a much-needed facelift in the form of dynamic windows. Read why going high performance means going smart.
Dynamic windows are transforming the building industry one pane at a time. At the forefront of the trend toward energy-efficient glass is Vancouver-based Miru Technologies, a trailblazing Canadian company whose industry-changing electrochromic glazing could soon be an industry standard.
Miru’s electrochromic glazing for dynamic windows — designed for the commercial building and automotive sector, with the residential market not far behind— is altering how buildings look and feel using technology that increases our exposure to sunlight and reduces energy consumption. The company’s CEO, Curtis Burlinguette, a professor of chemistry at the University of British Columbia, spearheaded the research, then spun the company out to the private sector. Since 2020, his staff has ballooned from 3 to 30 as they aim to license the tech to the glass manufacturing industry with a goal of deploying 1 million sq ft of eWindows by 2026.
The advent of smart technology has created an unexpected impact for offices looking to go green, the elimination of blinds, with the potential to create refined, cost-effective building spaces in urban centres. Miru Sky, the company’s signature product, provides tintable windows for companies looking to ditch traditional blinds for dynamic windows. How does it work? “Dynamic glazing is any glazing that’s able to change some property about itself in response to a stimuli,” Ryan Gregory, the Product Manager at Miru, explains. Electrochromic glazing, he says, changes transparency in response to electrical stimuli — an applied electric voltage to an electrochromic device, for example, or the sun’s energy. This allows you to manually control the amount of light that passes through the glass using your smartphone or a smart thermostat. In scientific terms, metal ions move in and out of layers, changing the colour and transparency of the glass. In layman’s terms, you control the level of tint, or solar energy, coming into your windows. The energy savings on heating and cooling your building amounts to 20% per year compared to standard windows. “Electrochromic glazing specifically allows you to modulate that [energy] with the seasons,” Gregory says. It’s a luxury product with an affordable price, he explains, something that was previously a barrier as far back as the solar revolution two decades ago. “Cost is…a big issue. The other is cost relative to energy savings. We’re still coming out of an age of cheap energy. Why am I going to spend more on my windows when I could just turn up the heating? We’re leaving that age behind. The economics of spending more on your windows if it saves you energy is starting to come into play.”
Another cost-cutting measure that’s positioned Miru as an industry disruptor: Miru’s current headquarters doubles as a manufacturing facility. The plan is for other chromatic glass fabricators to license Miru’s tinting technology rather than Miru building additional facilities when the company scales. In addition, by using existing tinting technology that many glass companies already have in place, it takes less energy (and capital) for Miru to maintain and change the tint in their own dynamic glass and avoids purchasing new, and often, expensive equipment. The cost savings that occurs is on both ends of the supply chain. Miru’s other signature product, Miru Arc, is designed for electric vehicles, saving EV car owners energy on their battery usage. The tech is touchless, eliminates backseat blinds, and the unique curved glass — an industry unicorn — can be installed as a sunroof in addition to the windows. “Automakers are very interested in dynamic glass right now,” Gregory says. “One of the big reasons is range of EVs. In hot climates, the amount of battery energy the vehicle uses is significant to run the air conditioning system. Over a long car trip, that’s going to extend the range ten percent or more. It’s not insignificant.” Additional benefits range from glare prevention to easing drivers’ anxiety on lengthier trips. The luxury market has also joined forces with the smart window industry — new models from Maserati and McLaren recently adopted electrochromic glass into their designs.
Light — how we control it, how much we let in or out — is top of mind as the building and manufacturing industries look to tech and solar energy to reduce our carbon emissions. It’s not just office space —think public institutions such as airports and hotels, and now, residential homes. Miru’s recent partnership with ODL Inc., an 85-year-old company and one of the largest glass manufacturers in the United States, will provide “electrochromic doorglass and patio doors” south of the border. These tintable glass patio doors are the next frontier for energy-efficient homes in the residential space, allowing homeowners to customize and manage personal energy usage and reduce their carbon footprint. The bonus is an elegant design that maintains a connection to the outdoors with a fluid indoor/outdoor space.
This innovation is happening industry wide on a global level. CURV, a 60-storey residential tower in Vancouver, which stands to become the largest Passive House build in the world, is incorporating Halio’s smart windows into its forward-thinking design. Toronto-based 3E Nano squeezes a razor-thin strip of metallic film between two strips of sapphire-like film (made from aluminum and nitrogen) to make structurally sound, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive solar coatings to be applied along commercial windowpanes. This ready-to-market alternative is a godsend for the construction industry which ranks number two behind transportation in carbon emissions into the atmosphere. New solar technology for windows is being developed in Australia, where ClearVue Technologies is set to employ solar glazing in massive project developments. In the US, the California-based Ubiquitous Energy recently received $30 million in start-up money to turn skyscrapers into vertical farms. The reality of remote and hybrid work means many high-rises still remain abandoned or underused since the pandemic — nearly 20% of office space in the United States is empty. Companies like Calgary’s Agriplay are solving food security and inequity in the commercial real estate space while using considerably less energy than traditional farms. Miru’s model is in a similar vein — take an outdated marketplace and provide a cost-effective, smart solution in the form of dynamic windows with low manufacturing costs to create a game changing product for a typically static sector.
Refracting the sun’s near-infrared light and capturing the heat from inside buildings is the goal of dynamic windows, and the potential to disrupt a glass industry that has remained static for decades is clear as day. Gregory believes there’s opportunity for this technology to become industry standard, with the potential even for prefabricated, modular housing developments to incorporate dynamic glass into new builds. “Energy codes are still allowing relatively inefficient buildings to be built,” Gregory says. “Now that’s changing. There are municipalities leading the way on carbon neutral buildings or pushing for more ambitious standards like Passive House.” If eyes are the windows to our souls, then tintable glass just made the view from your desk a lot more interesting. One could say dynamic, even.
Ryan Gregory is a civil engineer with a decade of experience in building enclosure consulting throughout the northwest. He also has significant experience in the design, manufacture, and assembly of modular buildings and panelized enclosure systems. He now works as a Product Manager at Miru in Vancouver where he’s developing strategies for integrating electrochromic technology into the built environment.