Energy-saving smart windows and heat-deflecting glass could get a lot less expensive, thanks to a basic method for creating clear coatings capable of restraining heat—along with cutting costs.

The spray-on coatings, devised by RMIT University researchers are slender in form, cost-efficient and more than meet contemporary industry standards for transparent electrodes.

Mixing the finest aspects of glass and metals in a solitary component, a transparent electrode is a heavily conductive clear coating that emits visible light.

The coatings – primary parts of technological advances that include smart windows, touchscreen displays, LED lighting and solar panels – are manufactured by way of complicated processes involving costly raw materials.

The novel spray-on method is quick, scalable and based on less expensive materials that are easily attainable.

The method could facilitate the manufacturing of smart windows, which can save energy and light, along with low-emissivity glass, where a traditional glass panel is coated with a specialised layer to cut down on ultraviolet and infrared light.

Lead investigator Dr Enrico Della Gaspera said that this revolutionary method of production could reduce the cost of energy-efficient windows and render them a regular fixture of new builds and retrofits.

Smart windows and low-E glass, experts say, can help control temperatures in a building, rendering ecological benefits and cost savings.

The major objective is to render smart windows more available to all, reducing energy costs and the carbon footprint of new and retrofitted buildings.

The new method can be optimised to create coatings designed to adhere to the transparency and conductivity standards affiliated with the various applications of visible electrodes.

The typical method for producing transparent electrodes is based on indium, a rare and costly element, and vacuum deposition techniques, which are unyielding, lacking in speed and expensive.

This renders transparent electrodes a primary expense in the manufacture of any optoelectronic device.

Researchers in RMIT’s School of Science created transparent electrodes from the less expensive source material of tin oxide, prepared with a combination of chemicals intended to improve conductivity and transparency.

The very thin transparent coatings permit the emission of visible light while blocking dangerous UV light and heat in the form of infrared radiation.

Scientists employed a process known as “ultrasonic spray pyrolysis” to create smooth, uniform coatings of heightened optical and electrical quality.

A precursor solution is nebulised, employing top technology to develop a fine spray mist that forms miniscule droplets. This concoction is sprayed upon a heated support layer, like glass.

When the solution strikes the hot layer a chemical reaction is triggered, breaking down the precursor into a solid residue deposited as an ultra-thin coating. The by-products of the reaction are decimated in the form of vapours, resulting in a pure coating with the right composition.

The universal market for smart glass and windows is predicted to reach $6.9 billion by 2022, while the universal low-E glass market is expected to reach an approximate $39.4 billion by 2024.

On a local level, Eureka Tower in Melbourne has incorporated smart glass into its “Edge” tourist attraction, a glass cube that extends 3m from the building and suspends visitors 300m above the community. The glass is opaque as the cube extends over the edge of the structure and clarifies when fully extended.

The next level of research involves the development of precursors that disintegrate at lower temperatures, permitting the coatings to be deposited on plastics and employed in flexible electronics, and manufacturing more sizable prototypes by scaling the deposition upward. And indeed, upward is the direction that this trend in ‘smart coatings’ will take.