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PPG to launch own version of self-cleaning glass

After test sales in Europe, Pilkington PLC“s self-cleaning windows are to debut in the United States this year, the company announced on 26 June.
The company first showed the self-cleaning glass in …

After test sales in Europe, Pilkington PLC“s self-cleaning windows are to debut in the United States this year, the company announced on 26 June. The company first showed the self-cleaning glass in Britain in February and has been selling it in limited test markets in Ireland and Austria. But Pilkington will not have the market to itself for long. PPG Industries, Inc., a large, US-based glassmaker, is working on its own version of the technology, and hopes to have a product on the market soon. Some Japanese companies have also said they are working on self-cleaning windows. “This is one of the holy grails of glass manufacturing, windows that clean themselves,” said Richard Karcher, president of Pilkington Building Products North America. Although glassmakers have visions of self-cleaning skyscrapers and windshields, both Pilkington and PPG are concentrating on the residential market first. Some 60 million residential windows are sold in America each year. Pilkington, which is making the glass in Ottawa, Illinois, has about 5% of that market, and hopes the self-cleaning technology will increase its share to 10%. The self-cleaning glass, which Pilkington is calling Activ, will add about 20% to the cost of basic windows, which typically range in price from US$ 200 to US$ 600. That makes the self-cleaning glass more expensive than other special glass products Pilkington offers. And the premium is what soap makers think will keep them in business. “I don“t know how many working families are going to be able to afford self-cleaning windows anytime soon,” said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association. Some home builders also are skeptical. “I won“t say the technology won“t sell, but you won“t have people rushing out to change their windows,” said Alan Hanbury, a Connecticut home remodeler and chairman of the National Association of Home Builders remodelers council. Pilkington hopes its technology will win over the skeptics. A permanent coating of titanium oxide applied to the glass as it is being made gives it the self-cleaning properties. When water hits most glass it beads up and runs off, and dust particles in rainwater rivulets can leave streaks or spots. The titanium oxide attracts the water and makes it run down the glass in a continuous sheet. That pushes off dirt particles and diffuses dust across the window, rather than clumping it together in droplets. Because this part of the self-cleaning technology requires water, homeowners in dry areas will have to occasionally spray their windows with a garden hose to help the glass clean itself. Yet even without water, the glass will in most cases clean itself, Pilkington scientists said. Once the glass is exposed to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, the titanium oxide acts as a catalyst slowly breaking down organic dirt into carbon dioxide and water vapor. Pilkington scientists say consumers will be able to watch small dirt smudges slowly disappear. Still, the company says it has to be careful not to promise too much. “If we oversell it we will be in trouble,” said Christopher Barry, Pilkington“s technical services director. PPG is being even more cautious, calling its glass low-maintenance rather than self-cleaning, said Jeff Worden, a company spokesman. PPG expects its new glass to be available soon but has not given a specific date. Much of the push to sell self-cleaning glass will come from the companies that make finished windows. Pacesetter Corp., an Omaha, Nebraska-based home improvement company, has been experimenting with samples of the Activ glass and hopes to start selling it this year. “I think it will work for us,” said Steve Jensen, a vice president at Pacesetter. “Our average customer is middle-aged to retirement-aged, and our common theme is minimal maintenance.” But Pella Corp., a large window maker based in Pella, Iowa, is unsure there will be much demand. “Is this really going to be something consumers want?” asked Jennifer Grove, a marketing director there. In 1999, Better Homes and Gardens magazine published a survey in which they asked their readers what home amenity would they most like to see developed. Self-cleaning glass finished first, said Joan McCloskey, one of the magazine“s editors. “I have been waiting for this product,” Ms. McCloskey said.

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