BOULDER, CO - A research effort led by the University of Colorado Boulder to develop an inexpensive, “do-it-yourself” coating to retrofit energy-inefficient windows in residential and commercial buildings has been given a $4 million boost over three years by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The funding will be used to develop a paintable, infrared-reflective coating to drastically reduce cooling costs for structures and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing solar heat gains, according to CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Garret Miyake of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Miyake is the principal investigator on the award, which also involves the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, CA, and Materia Inc., a private company headquartered in Pasadena.

Widespread national use of the new window coating promises to reduce the consumption of electricity used for cooling by 35 billion kilowatts, saving a projected $4 billion annually, said Miyake, who is also a faculty member of the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Program at CU-Boulder. The improved energy efficiency would decrease U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 26 million tons per year, the equivalent of removing 120 million cars from the road.

“Our goal is to provide an inexpensive product across a broad marketplace to improve energy inefficient windows and create significant savings for consumers,” Miyake said. “We see this as an exciting opportunity to make a positive impact in the field of energy efficiency.”

The $4 million award is part of $125 million in grants awarded by the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) for 41 cutting-edge energy technologies. Collaborators on the CU-Boulder-led effort include Caltech team leader Professor Robert Grubbs, a 2005 Nobel laureate, as well as researchers Raymond Weitekamp, Stephen Selkowitz and Arman Shehabi, who lead the team at LBNL.

The coating consists of a unique class of polymers - chemicals made of many repeating units - that self-assemble into a photonic crystal structure that simultaneously reflects heat and is transparent to visible light, Miyake said. An economic analysis by the team indicates that windows could be retrofitted for about $1.50 per square foot.

While infrared-reflective coatings are commercially available and have demonstrated significant energy savings, there are high up-front costs that can deter many potential customers, said Miyake. Such coatings generally need to be incorporated during manufacturing or installed by professionals.

“We will be able to provide an inexpensive paint that can be directly applied to windows by consumers to minimize solar heat transport and improve the energy efficiency of virtually all window types,” he said.

ARPA-E grants are designed to fund projects that display innovative technologies and show promise for commercial use but are too early for private sector investment, according to the DOE. The 41 funded projects - viewed as promising avenues in the hunt for viable ways to combat climate change, enhance security and solve pressing global energy challenges - come from 21 states and encompass 10 technical categories spanning transportation, electricity generation and delivery, and energy efficiency.