Viewpoint ― November 2007
Fact or Fiction?
In today’s world I think we are sometimes overwhelmed and taken over by the spin and the buzz words – nano-anything, ‘smart’, sustainability, and of course ‘green’. I am not opposed to these terms – they are good – but I am opposed to their inaccurate use, to the hype that is sometimes associated and not warranted, and to their exploitive overuse.
I have noticed a growing trend in the industry to use these terms rather loosely. When I go to a conference on nanotechnology I expect that to be the topic of the papers – same is true for a conference on smart coatings. But oftentimes we see a smattering of a lot of other ‘fill’, which is not what the subject matter was supposed to be. Nanotechnology should be dealing with particle sizes ranging from 0.1 to 100 nanometers. Smart coatings are those that respond to external stimuli of some sort – hence the name ‘smart’. A smart coating may be designed so that function and response can be switched on and off. The two terms, nano and smart, are not often interchangeable. Smart coatings do not necessarily employ nanoparticles, and the use of nanotechnology does not necessarily define a smart coating.
‘Green’ seems to be an environmental appeasement, so the term is bandied about whether warranted or not. Sometimes it is validly used and warranted – it is a shame those cases get diluted by the amount of so-called ‘green’ that is simply spin and marketing ploys – much ado about nothing! Sustainability is another one that supposedly links commercial success with environmental/ecological protection and social responsibilities. Are we being too quick to jump on these ideologies and be politically correct? I hope to sort out some of this in the next year and bring a bit of clarification to our readers. I know I need it for myself. Perhaps many of us who have spent our whole career in science and are programmed to think in terms of scientific parameters just have a hard time relating to some of the ‘science fiction’ – if I may say so at the risk of being controversial.
Here is something I think is very exciting – electromagnetic metamaterials, which are a class of material whose structures allow them to manipulate and control electromagnetic radiation. This has formed the basis for the newly patented SPD-smart light-control technology. Hitachi Chemical is producing SPD-Smart film from its new wide-width coating line. The smart emulsion and film, which is now being used for architectural and aircraft applications, and is also at an advanced stage of development for the automotive and marine industries, electrically controls the amount of light, glare and heat that passes through glass or plastic windows, sunroofs, sun visors, skylights, interior partitions and other products. Long rolls of SPD-Smart light-control film can be shipped and laminated locally into SPD-Smart glass or plastic products. Users can automatically, or with the simple turn of a dial, control light, heat and glare coming through materials such as glass or plastic, from optically transparent to blocking over 99% of visible light, and it can be tuned to any level of tint in between. All of this can be done instantly to increase comfort and conserve energy, and unlike conventional shading technology, without blocking one’s view. Check out their website at www.smartglass.com and see a demo of the product at work.