As you guys may know, one of the biggest problems with modern construction techniques is windows. Over 30% of the energy used to heat and cool a home or building gets leeched out the windows.
In the past, super-insulating windows made of precious metals have been available, but these are ridiculously expensive. Researchers at Guardian Industries have figured out how to make a thin, cheap window with a vacuum layer in the middle that gives the window an R12-R13 insulation rating, which is incredible for glass.
What this means? Windows might be capable of storing and trapping heat instead of losing it. That's a big shift in the way we think about building construction.
You've all heard of devices that capture kinetic energy to power themselves. Wind-up radios, cranked computers, etc. all fall into this category.
In theory, there's another way to trap micro-energy like this, which is to capture thermal energy and turn it back into electricity. If we could do this, the applications would be endless: capture your body heat in your winter coat and charge your cell phone. Tap the tailpipe of you car and reroute it to charge your car battery. It brings us closer to closed-loop energy systems.
But scientists haven't been able to figure out how to do it. The problem is that you need a temperature differential of hot and cold to tap the heat energy, but anything that conducts electricity also conducts heat, making it difficult to tap the power.
MIT researchers have just figured out how to use cheap nanotechnology to create micro-cooling stations to make this possible. The applications are endless, and you could even see this technology paired with the super-insulating windows above. The heat your home generates could get trapped by the windows, and flow back into your grid. Nice and efficient.
How do these windows work when you want to gain heat? Like south-facing windows in the winter? (I've heard that the super-glazed windows that are very insulative are actually some of the worst for passive solar use, on the sunside at least.)