Scientists create new smart window with materials from potatoes, corn and beans


Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have made a groundbreaking advancement in smart window technology, potentially making these energy-saving windows more affordable and widely accessible.

Smart windows, which can adjust their transparency to control the amount of light entering a building, hold promise for drastically reducing energy costs.

However, their high cost has slowed widespread adoption.

The study, led by Professor Guihua Yu from the Cockrell School of Engineering, has developed a new type of window that uses natural and sustainable materials derived from common foods such as corn, potatoes, and beans.

These materials, especially amylose—a natural polymer found in these foods—help the windows change color and amount of light they let through.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this research introduces an electrochromic device that can significantly reduce the light transmitted by more than 85%, also affecting how much ultraviolet and infrared light is blocked or allowed through.

Electrochromic means these materials can change color, thus adjusting their transparency depending on the needs of the building, like tinting on demand.

The innovative part of this technology lies in its use of inexpensive, easily available, and environmentally friendly materials. The lack of costly metals and harmful chemicals, along with a reusable transparent electrode, means these smart windows can be both effective and eco-friendly.

The device’s robustness was demonstrated through rigorous testing, including enduring over six weeks of constant ultraviolet light exposure, 1,200 usage cycles, and 4,000 switches between states of light transmission. This durability shows the potential for practical, everyday use in buildings.

The creation of these smart windows utilizes an interaction between iodine and amylose, triggered by a small electrical signal. This interaction changes the window’s color and how much light it allows through, which can help control a building’s temperature without using as much heating or cooling— a major plus for energy savings.

As the market for smart glass—which includes not just windows but also displays—is projected to grow to $12.7 billion by 2030, innovations like these are critical. They could help overcome the cost barriers currently slowing down the adoption of smart window technology.

The U.S. Department of Energy notes that buildings are a significant source of energy consumption, with a considerable portion of this coming from heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. With these new smart windows, buildings could become far more energy-efficient, reducing both costs and environmental impact.

This breakthrough not only points to a future where smart windows could become commonplace but also highlights how sometimes, solutions to advanced problems can come from simple, everyday materials.