Hybrid Nanocomposite Films Comprising Dispersed VO2 Nanocrystals: A Scalable Aqueous-Phase Route to Thermochromic Fenestration.
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Buildings consume an inordinate amount of energy, accounting for 30-40% of worldwide energy consumption. A major portion of solar radiation is transmitted directly to building interiors through windows, skylights, and glazed doors where the resulting solar heat gain necessitates increased use of air conditioning. Current technologies aimed at addressing this problem suffer from major drawbacks, including a reduction in the transmission of visible light, thereby resulting in increased use of artificial lighting. Since currently used coatings are temperature-invariant in terms of their solar heat gain modulation, they are unable to offset cold-weather heating costs that would otherwise have resulted from solar heat gain. There is considerable interest in the development of plastic fenestration elements that can dynamically modulate solar heat gain based on the external climate and are retrofittable onto existing structures. The metal-insulator transition of VO2 is accompanied by a pronounced modulation of near-infrared transmittance as a function of temperature and can potentially be harnessed for this purpose. Here, we demonstrate that a nanocomposite thin film embedded with well dispersed sub-100-nm diameter VO2 nanocrystals exhibits a combination of high visible light transmittance, effective near-infrared suppression, and onset of NIR modulation at wavelengths <800 nm. In our approach, hydrothermally grown VO2 nanocrystals with <100 nm diameters are dispersed within a methacrylic acid/ethyl acrylate copolymer after either (i) grafting of silanes to constitute an amorphous SiO2 shell or (ii) surface functionalization with perfluorinated silanes and the use of a perfluorooctanesulfonate surfactant. Homogeneous and high optical quality thin films are cast from aqueous dispersions of the pH-sensitive nanocomposites onto glass. An entirely aqueous-phase process for preparation of nanocrystals and their effective dispersion within polymeric nanocomposites allows for realization of scalable and viable plastic fenestration elements.