Interview with Alexander Kraft, Smart Glass Consultant

Alexander Kraft photo

Dr. Alexander Kraft is a freelance consultant for smart glass and electrochemistry with 20+ years experience in the smart glass industry. As a consultant, he currently works for ChromoGenics, a leading electrochromics company, but he also has experience with thermochromic glass solutions working with Suntuitive. Before starting as a consultant in 2018, Alexander worked for a smart glass pioneer company named Gesimat in Berlin. At Gesimat, he developed an electrochromic device using tungsten oxide, Prussian Blue and an ion-conducting PVB polymer electrolyte. The company was also a producer of thermochromic and PDLC glass laminates. Before starting with Gesimat, Alexander worked for a start-up company in the field of electrochemical water treatment and disinfection. Alexander finished his chemistry education with a Dr. rer. nat. from Humboldt University in Berlin. 


Thank you for joining us, Dr. Kraft, and welcome to Smart Glass World.

Dr. Kraft:

Thank you for reaching out to me. I am happy to talk to you about smart glass.


Q. Does the world really need smart glass, or is this just a technology fad?

Alexander Kraft:

I am convinced that smart glass is a good idea and that there are many benefits in using smart glass, especially as a dynamic sun protection glass.

I think the advantages of dynamic sun protection glass are obvious: You can adjust the light transmittance of your windows or facades to the intensity of the sun irradiation.

On hot Summer days with high light intensity the light transmittance of the glass is changed to a lower level, no mechanical sun protection is necessary and people always have a free view to the outside.

In addition to that, glare and heating up of the rooms are minimised. You can also save money and energy because you need less air conditioning.

Besides dynamic sun protection glass, the field of switchable privacy glass also has its justification, but the market potential is certainly smaller.


Q. Do you think the smart glass industry is going in the right direction at this time?

Alexander Kraft:

I think the last few years were a difficult time for the smart glass industry. Several companies had to shut down their business operations, e.g. Gesimat and EControl-Glas in Germany, Switch Materials in Canada or Heliotrope Technologies in the US.

But there are still several companies active in the field. Unfortunately, the market share of smart glass in the architectural glass market is still very small. And this has to be changed.


Q. What advice would you offer to smart glass manufacturers looking to improve their products and their share of the market?

Alexander Kraft:

The price for dynamic sun protection glass is still significantly higher compared to conventional static glazing solutions. When you pay that much money, you expect a brilliant product, which unfortunately isn’t always offered. So there is room for improvement.

On the other hand, I think the price can only go down, if production volumes increase significantly. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is that still too few real estate owners, builders, architects and facade builders know about smart glass, what variants there are, what they can do and what advantages their use brings.

That has to be changed.

More has to be invested in marketing efforts and in the training of potential customers.


Q. What is the biggest challenge right now in scaling up electrochromic technology, suitable for next-generation skyscrapers and other mega construction projects?

Alexander Kraft:

In my opinion, the maximum size of smart glass that can currently be produced by several companies is already in dimensions which are suitable for next-generation architecture.

Further increase of glass size for dynamic glass is more a matter of the necessary investment in new production lines. This will perhaps only be done when the existing lines are fully utilised.


Q. You have also worked extensively with thermochromic glass. In your opinion, which smart glass technology offers currently the best cost-benefit ratio?

Alexander Kraft:

This is not so easy to say. Of course thermochromic and photochromic glazing have a simpler construction and, because these are passive technologies, they do not need to be wired to some kind of electronic control unit.

Consequently, the price is inherently lower compared to the active technologies such as electrochromic, SPD or liquid crystal based technologies. But the active technologies can be controlled by a building automation system or a single human being.

In contrast to that, the passive technologies are entirely controlled by sun irradiation and air temperature.


Q. The recent US ‘Dynamic Glass Act’ received criticism for favouring electrochromic glass manufacturers. Do you think the EU should create similar legislation, and if so, how should they approach this?

Alexander Kraft:

If I understand it correctly, with this US ‘Dynamic Glass Act’ it will be possible to receive a 30% energy tax credit for some years if electrochromic glass is installed in a new building.

In this bill, electrochromic glass is defined as glass that uses electricity to change its light transmittance properties. So this covers more or less all active dynamic glass technologies but not the passive ones such as thermochromic glass.

In my opinion, such a bill should be open for all technologies in the field. So, if we create a similar legislation in the EU, all smart glass technologies should be included.


Q. The photovoltaic solar panel industry has conditioned us to expect an 8-10 year payback period before the investment is recouped. Do you think the smart glass industry needs to do the same in order to market itself more successfully?

Alexander Kraft:

Yes, I think if you simply compare the investment cost into new dynamic sun protection glass with investment in conventional static glass solutions, the payback time for the higher price due to lower energy consumption will be in the range of 8-10 years.

But if you add mechanical sun protection costs to the conventional glass solutions, the difference will not be so big anymore.

But you need to make this clear to the customer who is used to just comparing the costs of different glass solutions.