Timon Singh

How Space Technology Is Making Glass Production Greener

by , 05/04/11

European Space Agency, ESCUBE, hammer escube, glass production, space glass, space sensors, international space station,

Thanks to space travel and the European Space Agency, glass is now being produced more efficiently than ever before. Now you would be forgiven for thinking glass production was already quite green –  you need sand and heat and that’s it, so what could the ESA do to make it even more efficient? Well it seems that the technology used in space is being utilized to produce super-efficient energy-saving windows that protect occupants against heat loss during cold weather and against overheating on warm summer days.

European Space Agency, ESCUBE, hammer escube, glass production, space glass, space sensors, international space station,

According to Frank Hammer, founding member of the German company ESCUBE, the answer lies in sensors used to measure oxygen atoms outside space vehicles. “For space, the sensor was developed to measure atomic oxygen, known for its erosion effect and for degrading optical surfaces,” said Mr Hammer. “In the glass industry the technology is now used to control the industrial glass-coating process to obtain improved insulating properties.”

As you’d expect with technology developed for space flight, the complex coating procedure requires reliable and precise monitoring to control the process. “The gas sensor developed to handle the harsh space environment turned out to be the right solution to handle the difficult glass-production conditions of high temperatures and reactive gasses,” added Mr Hammer.

The technology has been in used since 1993 when ESA asked the University of Stuttgart to develop ceramic gas sensors to measure the atomic-oxygen levels around reentry craft under extreme test conditions. As a result, the University of Dresden developed the Flux-(Phi)-Probe-Experiments (FIPEX) and the sensors have been used on several space experiments and missions including the Russian Inflatable Reentry and Descent Technology research capsule, the STS-122 Shuttle mission and outside ESA’s Columbus laboratory module on the International Space Station.

Today the technology is being introduced to non-space markets via ESCUBE, such as the new VacuSen sensor for vacuum and plasma applications. The sensor provides easy, low-cost, time-resolving process control for industrial processes such as a magnetron reactive gas sputter plant for float-glass coating.

Peter Hennes from ESCUBE partner company iSATT added, “With ESCUBE’s sensor it is today possible to offer new types of glass. Their surfaces not only take into account economic and ecological criteria but also fulfil aesthetic criteria, saving energy by the low overall heat transfer coefficients. With the new coating the overall heat transfer coefficients have been reduced to about a third of what they were in the 1980s, while maintaining light transmittance at 80%. The light passing through is almost the same as standard glass, but the heat loss during winter and the heat gain during summer have been reduced significantly.”

So there you go; next time you’re in a glass facade building and you’re cool on the inside while it is sweltering outside, the windows might just have been developed with the aid of space age technology!

+ ESA

via Phys Org

Lead image © ivan.baric

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