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High tech coating protects windshields from stone chips, heat and frost

Photo credit: Alchemy

A Kitchener Ontario-based start-up is working with GreenCentre Canada to make windshields safer and greener. 

Vehicle technology has come a long way since the Model T ford, but not windshields it seems. Many of the problems drivers put up with nearly 100 years ago are still with us today: stone chips, overheated cabins in summer and frosty windows in winter.

Alchemy, a start-up company founded by a group of nanotechnology engineering graduates from the University of Waterloo, is using 21st Century materials to solve this century-old problem. ExoShield is a thin, transparent windshield film that protects against stone chips, prevents frost, improves visibility and blocks UV radiation to keep cabins cooler, resulting in better fuel efficiency for conventional vehicles, increased drive range for electric vehicles and lower maintenance costs overall.

What started as a fourth-year university design project is now a commercial product that is sold as an add-on when you buy your vehicle, like window tinting or rust proofing. The film is also used by some trucking fleets across Ontario and North America. But to grow their market, Alchemy needed to drive down the product’s cost and improve its performance.

That’s when they decided to enter a new Dragon’s Den-like competition organized by GreenCentre Canada (GCC). With funding from the Government of Ontario, the InnovationHouse Chemistry Countering Climate Change (IHC4) competition works with academic institutions to accelerate early-stage discoveries and with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to de-risk and scale up later-stage clean technologies.

Alchemy and four other companies were selected from an initial slate of 17 entrants. The prize is access to GCC’s two state-of-the art labs, and its team of highly experienced chemists, commercial experts, and business professionals – services that might otherwise cost up to $200,000, a big bottom line expense for a small company.

“Few people realize the huge impact that chemistry can have in fighting climate change,” says Brian Mariampillai, GCC’s Director of Business Development. “They may not directly reduce CO2 emissions at the stack but, but in many cases they can help reduce the costs and increase the uptake of technologies that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help counter climate change.”

GCC’s experts are working Alchemy to expand the coating’s protective capabilities and to drive down production costs from $100 to about $30 per windshield.

“GreenCentre Canada has the expertise to change the underlying chemistry of the film which will reduce the cost, while keeping the windshield completely transparent,” says Chong Shen, Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of Alchemy. “It will also do a better job at rejecting the solar infrared, which will reduce the amount of fuel needed for air conditioning. At 100% market penetration, we expect to save 500,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions in windshield replacement, 160,000 tonnes of CO2 from reduced air conditioning use and 250,000 tonnes of glass from ending up in landfills annually.”

GCC is also providing intellectual property advice and third party testing and validation which will be used for legal certification and to back up sales and marketing claims.

“With GreenCentre’s help, we hope to have a prototype by June 2017 and then work further with them to optimize the technology so that it performs exactly how we want it to before going into production,” says Shen.

The federal government has made scaling up Canada’s clean tech industry a national priority. Its April 2017 Budget included more than $2.2 billion in new clean-tech spending, including increased support for the demonstration, adoption and export of Canadian energy and environmental technologies.

“Canada’s clean tech sector has generated more than 55,000 jobs with about 800 companies, most of them SMEs,” says Mariampillai. “But without access to industry networks, capital, market data, and top-notch lab facilities and equipment, SMEs and entrepreneurs may never reach their full potential. Fortunately we have commercialization centres like GreenCentre Canada helping to provide that critical support.”