Smart Windows for More Sustainable Buildings

Publish Date

26 OCT 2020


Kai Beckmann


Windows that can be dimmed at the push of a button? The liquid crystal technology by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany makes this possible.

Through intelligent light and heat regulation, our liquid crystal windows open up completely new architectural possibilities for the development of sustainable buildings. The first projects have already been implemented successfully. However, they are just the beginning.

From displays to windows

Liquid crystal technology has already been around for over 30 years. It was originally developed for displays. Our liquid crystals from the Electronics business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany are now standard in modern screens. LCD is one of the dominant display technologies in the electronics industry. It is commonly used in televisions, laptops and smartphones. Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is both the market and technology leader in this field.

However, because of their special characteristics, liquid crystals can also be used in another, completely different way. You take a transparent liquid crystal mixture with special dye molecules and insert it as a film between two panes of glass that are provided with a conductive coating. Now, if you apply a low electric voltage to this construction, the molecules change their orientation and, consequently, the light and heat transmittance of the window panes. The result: a window that can be dimmed at the push of a button. This video explains how this all works.

Contribution to health and well-being

Something that sounds so simple here has actually needed many years of development work. But what exactly is so innovative about our liquid crystal windows? The answer is obvious: Sustainability and energy efficiency also play an increasingly important role in construction. Heat management and lighting are particularly crucial factors for the energy efficiency of a building. And this is precisely where our liquid crystal windows come into play.

Thanks to their special design, they make it possible to regulate the sunlight entering the building and thus provide solar glare protection without compromising on natural daylight. The light transmission of our liquid crystal windows can be adapted individually to the light conditions as they change during the course of the day. Thanks to this needs-based control of light and heat transmission, air conditioning systems and lighting do not need to be switched on as often. Blinds are also made obsolete. As a result, the energy efficiency of buildings with extensive glass façades in particular can be improved significantly with our technology.

In addition, we also have liquid crystal windows that switch from transparent to translucent – providing a frosted glass effect at the push of a button. For example, if you want more privacy during a meeting in a conference room with glass walls, you can simply activate a switch and it will no longer be possible to see through the panes of glass.

This year, we have already implemented various lighthouse projects. The most spectacular project is probably the “Niemeyer Sphere” at the headquarters of the German crane manufacturer Kirow in Leipzig. The spherical building, which looks a little bit like a landed UFO and provides a great contrast to the brick façades of the rest of the complex, was designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The elaborate curved window façade comes from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and is based completely on our liquid crystal technology.

At the FC Group in Karlsruhe, we fitted the entire façade of a building with our liquid crystal windows for the first time. And, of course, we also equip our own buildings at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany with these windows. Our Innovation Center in Darmstadt has an entire window façade with liquid crystal technology. Our new research building E65 and our production plant for OLED materials in Darmstadt also have switchable windows, both in the sun protection and privacy variants.

Set for expansion

We now manufacture our liquid crystal windows on a commercial scale at our Dutch site in Veldhoven under the brand name eyrise. The production line is the first of its kind for liquid crystal windows.

Of course, our objective is to equip as many buildings as possible with our innovative windows and to expand our eyrise products into further regions and markets. For this purpose, for example, we entered a strategic partnership with Guardian Glass (a leading manufacturer of glass products) in June this year. Products by Guardian Glass are used in residential buildings, office buildings and vehicles and can be found in numerous architectural landmarks throughout the world, such as the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg or the Dubai Frame. As a result of this partnership, and the additional distribution channels and improved access to the network in the architecture industry that it provides, we expect to gain many new customers.

We are still in the early stages when it comes to liquid crystal windows. Since the factors of sustainability and energy efficiency are also becoming increasingly important for housing construction, I am convinced that the full potential of this technology is far from exhausted. Our liquid crystal windows could be an important element on the path towards climate-neutral living and working.

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