Education, Sustainability, and Technology

Tech firm sees window of opportunity

Mackinac Technology partners with Calvin College, others on energy-efficient coverings.

August 26, 2016
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Mackinac Technology
Calvin associate professor Renard Tubergen, left, and student Jonathan Sager worked on the new window system. Courtesy Calvin College

A technology firm is looking to make commercial and residential buildings more sustainable by developing a window system that will keep hot and cold air from escaping.

Half of the heating and cooling loss experienced by buildings is through windows. John Slagter, president of Mackinac Technology Co. in Grand Rapids, said his firm hopes to reduce the amount of heating and cooling energy lost through windows by up to 60 percent with its new product and reduce a building’s overall energy usage by 10 percent.

Mackinac Technology is developing a “novel, cost-effective, retrofit window insulation system” that utilizes a durable conducting oxide window film that is highly transparent to visible light — by more than 90 percent — but reflects ultraviolet and thermal-infrared energies to reduce heat loss in winter.

The retrofit technology could save nearly one quad of energy if fully implemented across the United States, according to the firm.

Slagter is careful to explain his company is not developing a new glass window but rather a “lightweight, transparent plastic window covering” that is placed over the interior of the existing glass window.

The product has been in development for several years but got a boost at the end of last year when it received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy or ARPA-E.

ARPA-E funds innovative technologies that display promise for both technical and commercial impact but are too early for private-sector investment.

The grant went into effect in April and will be distributed over two years.

Mackinac Technology, which was a finalist for Michigan’s Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards in the innovator of the year category, was one of 41 projects to receive funding — out of more than 4,000 applicants across the country. The ARPA-E gave out $125 million in funding.

Mackinac Technology was founded in 2007 to work on federally funded research grants. Its window insulation system previously has received several grants to fund its development.

Multiple entities are collaborating with Mackinac Technology to develop the insulation system: Calvin College; German research and development firm Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, with which the Mackinac Technology has a cooperative research agreement; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center; U.S. Air Force Academy; Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee; and National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

Calvin College is assisting the firm with product testing.

Richard DeJong, an emeritus professor at Calvin College, and Renard Tubergen, an associate professor at the Grand Rapids school, as well as two students, are participating in the research.

“We are providing the testing and analysis to show that the coatings are effective at reducing the heat lost through windows,” Tubergen said.

Tubergen said it’s important the window system also provides a clear view through the window.

“At the end of the project, we want a window coating that is marketable,” he said.

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has been an ongoing partner with Mackinac Technology.

“It’s an enormous organization with 70 to 80 labs around the world, including a few in the United States, one of which is on the campus of Michigan State University. I’ve been working with my team members out of the MSU campus,” Slagter said.

Slagter said his firm is working with Fraunhofer to develop nanotechnology that makes the window insulation system function, and Calvin College will test the prototypes until a marketable product is designed.

“The market is basically the window market, commercial and residential in the United States and Canada, and we are also in discussions to expand operations into the European Union,” Slagter said.

He said he is confident a final product will be ready for sale in two years. 

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