A team of eight students — seven from Western Washington University and one from the University of Washington — are at the helm of a project that could revolutionize the future of windows.
In a crucial step toward carbon-neutral buildings and communities, the team built a prototype of a “Smart Solar Window” that can harvest ultraviolet light to generate power.
In April, the students presented their design in Washington, D.C., and came home with a $75,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The team won the money in the EPA’s “P3 – People, Prosperity, and the Planet” sustainable design competition involving more than 30 university teams from across the country. With the grant, Western’s team can now investigate ways to bring their solar window to market, says David Patrick, a chemistry professor and one of two P3 faculty advisers at Western.
“We had a lot of confidence in this fantastic team and were very excited when they claimed the prize,” Patrick says. “There are other windows out there right now that can produce electricity, but they’re too expensive and inefficient for widespread adoption. So there’s a real need for the Smart Solar Window as we try to make our cities greener and our buildings more sustainable.”
The team’s window is the first transparent window that harvests energy from the sun and converts it to electricity. That power could reduce a building’s heating and cooling costs by up to 30 percent by automatically opening and closing windows to aid cooling and ventilation. The system could be operated remotely from a phone, computer or ventilation system.
The team — a mix of graduate and undergraduate students from the departments of chemistry, engineering, design, and business and economics — has been working on the window the past year. Student project leader James Kintzele says their window required the combined strengths of an interdisciplinary team.
“Western Washington University has such a hands-on approach in their undergraduate programs,” he says. “If I’d been in an electrical engineering program in a different college in junior year, I wouldn’t have had the foresight or capacity to do this.”
“We’re so excited about the solar window and confident about its future,” Kintzele says “It’s not a matter of if this technology is used, but a matter of when. There are certain obstacles for expansion right now, but I feel strongly this could be in buildings a year from now, given the proper funding and a motivated team.”