SCHENECTADY — A local startup firm was honored this week for the progress it’s making toward commercializing a new way to insulate windows.
SunThru was one of seven winners in the 2021 Commercialization Competition held by FuzeHub on Monday and Tuesday at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona. Entrepreneurs from across the state pitched their ideas for new technologies to a live audience for a share of $350,000 in prizes; seven walked away with $50,000 prizes.
SunThru is refining an aerogel product that can be placed between glass panes to keep heat inside or outside the building, depending on the season, CEO John Costa said Thursday.
Aerogels, which have been around for decades, are gels from which the liquid has been removed, leaving a strong, porous material. But they are typically translucent, not suitable for a window. SunThru’s aerogels are transparent.
“It’s like styrofoam you can see through,” Costa said.
Another distinction: Aerogel manufacturing typically is a lengthy solvent-based process.
SunThru uses a mold that is heated and pressed, creating its aerogel in less time with less waste and fewer chemicals. The company received a National Science Foundation grant to help pay for development of the mold and press process.
The next challenge for SunThru is to make an aerogel that is large enough to market and sell.
The aerogel oven that SunThru developed allows a maximum product size of only 5-by-5 inches. These can be laid side-by-side like tiles to form a large sheet, Costa said, but all the edges impair clear visibility.
So they’re aiming for a bigger monolith.
SunThru is now developing an oven capacity of 14-by-20 inches, then aiming in a couple more years to have a 22-by-32-inch unit, “which is large enough to make a decent window,” Costa said.
Within four or five years, they hope to have a product large enough for the large plate glass windows used in commercial settings.
Costa is SunThru’s only full-time employee. Adam Forti, a friend of Costa’s from their undergraduate days as mechanical engineering students at Union College, is chief operating officer.
Ann Anderson, a Union mechanical engineering professor, is chief technology officer. Mary Carroll, a Union chemistry professor, is chief science officer.
Costa and Forti knew Anderson and Carroll from their days in Union’s aerogel laboratory, which the two professors co-direct and where they developed the process to make transparent aerogels.
Union College holds the patent for that process and SunThru, which Anderson, Carroll, Costa and Forti co-own, holds the exclusive license for it.
The company’s corporate address is Anderson’s home in Glenville but all the actual work happens at Union College.
Costa said there’s a significant potential market for SunThru’s product, as Energy Star efficiency standards are increased for the northern and north-central climate zones of the United States. The triple-pane windows that would meet those standards are too heavy and bulky for many retrofit situations.
A double-pane window unit with an aerogel sandwiched in the middle is more energy-efficient yet lighter than a conventional triple-pane unit, Costa said.
SunThru is applying for a phase two National Science Foundation grant to develop the larger ovens it would need in order to scale up and supply that market.
Albany-based FuzeHub is the statewide center for the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership, through which it helps small and midsize manufacturers grow, commercialize technology and gain market share.
“We had an extremely strong cohort of competitors this year, and look forward to working with these young companies as they continue to build their products and businesses,” FuzeHub Executive Director Elena Garuc said in a prepared statement.