Lanning. The pioneer: Bruce Lanning, Director of Thin-Film Technologies, ITN Energy Systems, Inc.

The concept: Smart windows: glass coated with a thin plastic layer of “electrochromic film” which, when excited by an electrical current, can control the amount of light and heat that passes through. (Think those eyeglass lenses that automatically tint in sunlight, only on a much bigger scale.) On hot August afternoons your office windows could switch from translucent to opaque — shutting out excess light and heat. On bright winter days they’d let the warmth penetrate. Smart controls can tint and un-tint windows automatically — maximizing daylight and minimizing the use of overhead lighting. The energy efficiency benefits could be huge, given that buildings lose 30 to 40 percent of their heat through windows.

The payout: $4,986,249.00

The goal: Scale up the window size, and develop a mass production process that will hold down cost. ITN’s current prototype window measures from 18 to 40 inches; most commercial applications require a 60-inch span. Lanning plans to make a 60-inch window, and predicts full-scale manufacturing of ITN’s plastic-coated smart windows within four years.

The hurdles: Cost and durability. Window-dimming technology has been in development for years. Initially the film was deposited directly onto the glass window, a difficult process to affordably mass-produce. ITN cut costs by depositing the film onto a flexible plastic sheet that can be adhered to glass. Costs have to shrink even further, and the plastic film must prove durable enough to last for decades and withstand the elements. Lanning is also working on dimming speed (how long it takes the window to transition from clear to tinted and back again) and on the color of the tint (rose, yellow, blue, or grey).

The promise: “Energy loss associated with windows totals four quads annually in the U.S. If we switched all the windows in the nation to LowE [the industry standard for highly efficient windows], still two quads of energy would leak out. Smart windows could eliminate all four quads.” [“Quads” is short for quadrillion BTUs of energy. But you knew that.]