Cleantech Open Spotlight: e-Chromic Technologies

Company: e-Chromic Technologies, Inc

Location: Boulder, CO

Interviewee: Loren Burnett, CEO

Author: Ian McConville, Karyssa Cox
Interview by: David Gardner & Karyssa Cox

Replacing old, energy inefficient windows with high-efficiency windows represents a major source of energy savings. It is also very expensive and therefore often not practical. E-Chromic, of Boulder CO, has taken a different approach to the problem by placing control of the window solar heating directly into the hands of building operators.

E-Chromic’s electrochromic window film can be switched to reflective mode to decrease solar heating during warm sunny days, significantly lessening the load of the air conditioner. The film can then be switched to transparent during colder days to allow light to pass through unhindered in order to reduce the need to heat the building. Building owners using e-Chromic’s film can reduce their HVAC loads, operating costs, and CO2 emissions by up to 35%.  We spoke with Loren Burnett, CEO of e-Chromic, about the company, their product, and their experience as a Rocky Mountain Cleantech Open finalist in 2011.

Q: What makes e-Chromic’s Solution unique? How are you different from your competition?

A: One of the biggest things that differentiates e-Chromic from their competition that their smart window film turns diffuse reflective when activated. This unique approach enables e-Chromic to be the only smart window company that can retrofit existing windows. Building owners installing e-Chromic’s product on their building can reduce their operating costs by nearly 35% and these savings get passed directly to the lease holders. When a company is out shopping for a new building they take four things into account: location, quality of building, price per square foot, and operating costs. So if there are two buildings that are carbon copies of each other except one has e-Chromic’s film installed, the decrease in operation costs would be a huge pull.  This is also important for building owners that are trying to attract in the US government or state governments that require that new leases go to energy-efficient buildings.

Another distinction is that e-Chromic’s product is completely user-controllable. An operator can turn the film on to reflective mode in warm sunny months and then turn switch it to transparent mode in the winter in order to capture additional solar heat. They also offer a third setting, which allows light within the visible spectrum to come through but is reflective in the infrared spectrum. This eliminates a large amount of the heat entering the building but still allows natural light to come in.

Q: How has e-Chromic made an impact within the cleantech space?  How do your company and your product address sustainability, specifically?

A: The electrochromic technology will reduce the AC usage in buildings by 35%. The Department of Energy estimates that 4% of the entire US heating and cooling loads are associated with windows. Additionally, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) has run comparisons to other similar technologies that rely on absorptivity—these comparisons have shown that e-Chromic’s reflective technology delivers 43% greater overall building energy savings.than absorptive technologies.  In addition, reducing the HVAC load increases the profitability of companies, giving them more free capital to run their business and therefore greater sustainability.

e-Chromic is also looking to make inroads to the automobile glass industry. Reducing the AC usage in cars is one way to improve their fuel economy. This is especially important for electric vehicles, since cooling a car drains the battery and directly impacts the vehicle range.

Q: Other than the obvious challenge of seeking and obtaining financing, what is another large challenge that you have had to overcome, or are currently overcoming, that you can share with our readers?

A: Currently the largest challenge facing e-Chromic is moving out of the National Renewable Energy Lab which has served as their R&D facility. Finding a suitable, cost effective facility has been challenging. 

Q: When presenting your product to a building owner, when, from your perspective, does it become obvious in reviewing the value proposition that this owner should go forward with using your product?  In other words, when does it become a “no-brainer” for them to choose your product?

A:  In 1990 ASHRAE adopted a new standard for more heat-efficient windows to be installed on new buildings. Therefore, if the windows in your building were installed prior to 1990, then the decision to use e-Chromic’s film becomes an investment that makes a lot of sense, especially if a major tenant’s lease is due to expire soon.  There are a huge number of buildings to go after that fit this scenario.

e-Chromic is also reaching out to owners that are trying to position themselves within the US government or state government building market.  This is because they require that new leases go to energy-efficient buildings.

Q: What still makes you excited to hop out of bed in the morning and anxious to get to work; what is that one thing?

A: Loren explained that for him, it’s the triple bottom line that comes from working with green technology. Knowing that he’s contributing to something that’s potentially going to affect the planet for years to come is one very special aspect of working in the cleantech industry.

Q: Looking back on your experience as a Cleantech Open semifinalist, what resources or experiences did you gain that you find most useful in getting to where you are today?

A: There are two major ways that the Cleantech Open helped e-Chromic. The first is the sense of credibility that comes from being a finalist. Your company gains a sense of expertise and the ability to say that you were in a group of 21 companies that were handpicked by clean technology experts. The second is the number of contacts that Loren has made through CTO. He is now only a few contacts away from anyone he would need to talk to in the cleantech arena.

e-Chromic was a Rocky Mountain CTO finalist three years ago and they have continued to make significant achievements in the cleantech world.  They recently experienced great success in being one of two winners of a $50,000 prize at a Village Capital event, which makes their $600k Series Seed round oversubscribed.

Heating and cooling our buildings in the United States requires a vast amount of energy, and windows result in a large amount of that energy being wasted. By directly affecting the amount of light and solar heating that is allowed to enter a building, the HVAC loads can be drastically reduced— e-Chromic is poised to do just that.