Success Story

Sandia National Laboratories’ original goal was to develop a self-resetting circuit breaker using vanadium dioxide. But through the creativity of a Sandia scientist and a businessman, Sandia technology has been transferred to the private sector and is poised to make a difference in the marketplace reducing energy needs for consumers in the U.S.

Sandia Physicist Paul Clem met a businessman with a company specializing in aerogel windows. William Kurtz told Clem that although they are great in the winter, aerogel windows get too hot in the summer. Clem thought he could adapt his thermochromic thin film material to solve this problem.

Sandia began working with IR Dynamics on developing the nanoparticles into a low cost, thermally dynamic technology that will be incorporated into a variety of products for smart regulation of solar heat. The team has developed nanoparticles that have tunable optical properties triggered by the environment: these nanomaterials transition to let the heat through when it’s cold outside and reflect heat when it’s warm. At cooler temperatures, this material is a clear insulator, but when it is hotter it becomes a metal that reflects infrared (IR) radiation while still transmitting visible light.

Vanadium dioxide particles (Photo credit: Sandia)

To transfer the technology from Sandia to IR Dynamics and the marketplace, a variety of mechanisms have been utilized. A $1.7M funds-in CRADA was used to develop thermochromic materials for control of IR transmission. The CRADA enables joint R&D as well as addressing new intellectual property developed during scale-up. Development of these thermochromic materials will suit environmentally-mediated applications including incorporating the nanoparticles into new windows, adding them to architectural plastics like those used in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Water Cube, or high-performance athletic clothing. Many manufacturers are interested in IR Dynamic’s technologies because of their potential to satisfy increasing demand for energy efficiency and personal climate control.

CRADA Outcome

Learning about the Sandia thermochromic technology led to Kurtz starting a new company, IR Dynamics, to develop and market Sandia’s dynamic thermochromic materials. The first product IR Dynamics is developing is an easy-to-use film homeowners can apply to existing windows to reduce their heating and cooling bills, which Kurtz hopes to have on the market by late 2018.

After working together under two New Mexico Small Business Assistance projects to test the feasibility of creating products based on the thermally dynamic materials, work continues under the $1.7M CRADA and $1.95 million DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grant. The external funding from the funds-in CRADA has, in turn, enabled Sandia development of other tunable optical material properties that meet Sandia’s enduring mission areas of integrated, adaptive optics and remote sensing. More sensitive physical sensors and new microfabricated optical structures are among the offshoot Sandia technologies, patents, and publications enabled by the partnership with IR Dynamics.

IR Dynamics is now licensing two technologies from Sandia. The company also has a User Facility Agreement with the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT), which has led to three publications.

Research conducted during the NMSBA projects created the new joint intellectual property which gave the company the confidence to seek $2 million in A-round funding, IR Dynamics has also recently built out new offices and laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, and has hired six new employees. A B-round of funding is planned at the close of the ARPA-E grant period to scale up the manufacturing technology.

Madico, one of the largest providers of window films worldwide, is working with IR Dynamics to develop window film products and laminated ETFE structural film (an architectural membrane). The company also has a joint development agreement with HeiQ, a fabric finishing company that provides modified performance materials to major apparel brands.