“We tried that already and it didn’t work.” Those were the words that AeroShield CEO Elise Strobach heard from the glass industry when she described her new material for windows.
AeroShield Moves Forward on a (Crystal) Clear Path to Market
Few could believe Strobach had found a way to make hyper-efficient windows with silica aerogel – one of the best insulators on Earth. The technology had existed in theory for decades, offering the promise of increasing efficiency by a whopping 50%. But until 2020, the products that had reached the market were simply too hazy, too cloudy to be commercially successful windows. Strobach had figured out how to make clear aerogel. Now she just needed a way to prove it.
Silica Aerogel: The Holy Grail
The story of AeroShield begins during Strobach’s graduate work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she first started working with silica aerogel. This is a material so transparent and super-insulating that it’s described as the “holy grail” for windows. She started experimenting with its nanostructure, and over the course of several years, hit on a way to make it more transparent glass, itself.
This was big. Standard single-pane windows are a primary source of energy leaks in a building – places where heat moves in and out of a structure, reducing efficiency and making the HVAC system work harder. By replacing these windows with more efficient ones, a building owner can reduce energy use. The promise of silica-aerogel windows is vast: a possible savings of thousands of dollars a year for building owners in North America.
“Our innovations were also to the manufacturing process itself – we’re developing ways of producing these windows at scale,” said Strobach.
In the spring of 2020, the AeroShield founders were out raising money and pounding the pavement with small, 2- by 5-inch samples of their insulated glass. But what they needed was proof that their material did what they said it could do. That’s where IN2 came in.
Crystal Clear Results
As an IN2 company in the Affordable Housing portfolio, AeroShield was paired up with an NREL senior researcher in nanostructured materials, Chaiwat Engtrakul. Strobach shipped out her samples to the NREL facility in Golden and waited to hear back as Engtrakul conducted analyses. In the fall of 2020, the AeroShield founders received good news.
“The optical quality of these samples is, quite frankly, amazing,” said Engtrakul, who has been working on dynamic windows for over a decade. “The majority of our work now is accelerated evaluation under controlled temperature and illumination, to see how the aerogel properties change over time.”
Engtrakul and his colleagues are also helping Strobach perfect a method for adhering the aerogel to the inside of the insulating glass unit. They are on a tight timeline: Aeroshield plans to have first products for niche customers in the third quarter of 2021. NREL’s experts will also help develop the fledgling company’s go-to-market plan.
With energy startups, one of the most important questions is: Where should we sell this first? Energy prices, weather, and regulations are different in every county in the United States, so companies want to target locations where the savings will be the greatest for consumers. To help answer that question, the modeling and optimization experts at NREL are using complex modeling software that can mimic the energy and cost savings for homeowners who install these windows.
Thanks to IN2, AeroShield is able to see a clearer and clearer path to the future.
“With the IN2 program, we were really looking for the third-party validation aspect – we don’t have certified testing procedures,” said Strobach. “And we were looking for the expertise as well. It really rounded out and enabled us to do our development effectively.”
Learn more about AeroShield.