Envision Global Inc.
When people build new buildings, they often ask for two things: large windows and energy efficiency. That leaves architects scratching their heads and wondering how to provide such apparently contradictory features. Enter Envision Global Inc.
Envision Global specializes in energy efficient glass curtain walls that both maximize window space and insulate three to four times better than traditional, double-glazed windows. The company has kept buildings warm in cold locales like Edmonton, Alberta, where Envision Global is based; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Iqaluit, Nunavut, which is the northernmost Canadian province and has a polar climate. Its technology has also been used at an Antarctic research station.
Now, Envision Global is ready to take the rest of the world by storm. In November 2016, it gained the exclusive rights to sell its patented technology in most of the developed world.
“We’ve got some really cool products that are underexploited and that could be used in literally hundreds of thousands or millions of buildings,” says Garth Von Hagen, Envision Global’s director and CFO. “We’re just barely scratching the door of opportunities.”
When it comes to windows, the industry standard is double-pane glass. A small pocket of air is sandwiched between the two panes, providing some insulation. Envision Global takes it two steps further. It provides the equivalent of quadruple-pane glass, without the weight or bulk that four panes would normally add.
In Envision Global’s system, two layers of film are suspended between two panes of glass. Between each layer of material is a pocket of air, providing three to four times more insulation than double-pane glass.
To maintain the structural integrity of the glass, as air between the layers expands or contracts with temperature fluctuations, it is able to escape through the window’s breathable frame. That air passes through desiccant chambers, which remove moisture and keep the window interiors dry.
Those desiccant chambers are embedded in the curtain wall frames that give Envision Global another major advantage. “We talk a lot about the glass itself,” Von Hagen says. “That’s very important, but there’s another real important part to the curtain wall, the framing.”
Many curtain walls are made with aluminum frames, but aluminum is a temperature conductor. If it’s cold outside, that cold can seep through the frame into a warm building, and vice versa. Envision Global places an insulating material between the aluminum on the outside of the frame and the aluminum on the inside of the frame to prevent that heat transfer.
Envision Global’s unique curtain wall frames allow the company to embed transparent solar panels directly into its curtain walls, too. Installing photovoltaic panels requires a high level of technical expertise, as wires must run through the frames. That poses design, engineering and manufacturing challenges, and it becomes especially important that frames don’t leak. “Water and electricity don’t get along very well, especially in metal frames,” Von Hagen says.
With the ability to incorporate electronics, Envision Global can tack on other, cutting-edge technologies, like the electrochromic tinting that View Dynamic Glass provides. Electrochromic tinting allows building occupants to change the tint of windows to reduce glare and further control temperature.
The savings are clear
For building owners, Envision Global’s technology has an immediate payback.
Because the curtain walls are energy efficient, there is a strong return on investment. But there’s another major savings. When architects and designers involve Envision Global early, they can take advantage of the curtain wall’s increased thermal efficiency by downsizing the building’s heating and cooling systems.
“It’s been proven on several occasions that even though you pay more for that one line item, you can more than offset that with the other savings on the building,” Von Hagen says.
Often, the green building community touts that green technology pays for itself through utility savings over several years. “I can honestly tell someone, ‘Actually, your payback is on day one, plus the ongoing economic savings,’” Von Hagen says.
Those savings aren’t limited to new buildings. The high-performance windows can be installed during building retrofits, as well. Building owners will frequently update their HVAC systems during such retrofits. In those cases, owners can, again, downsize their HVAC systems based on the increased insulation from Envision Global’s system.
Partners who see the benefits
Several notable projects have taken advantage of Envision Global’s system, and Von Hagen says this is just the beginning. Green building trends are on the rise, and building codes around the world are beginning to demand more energy-efficient buildings.
When Vancouver’s historic Hotel Georgia wanted to add a luxury high-rise residential tower, for instance, it enlisted Envision Global. The company installed its high-performance glass curtain walls on all 50 stories of the Private Residences at Hotel Georgia, which was the second tallest building in Vancouver at the time of its completion.
Those curtain walls included embedded solar panels, and Von Hagen says the project was a feather in Envision Global’s cap. It proved the company could take its vision sky-high.
At the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Envision Global helped create a solar atrium, an entirely glass structure with solar panels embedded into its walls and roof. While it’s not a giant building, that atrium generates about 10 megawatts of electricity annually, enough to power three full-size houses in Edmonton for one year.
“That’s the kind of thing we see a lot of growth opportunities in,” Von Hagen says.
Further north, in Wasilla, Alaska, Envision Global tackled more than windows. The company installed all of the walls, including but not limited to glass curtain walls, at the new Wasilla Public Library. For the non-window walls, Envision Global used its curtain wall frames and enlisted the help of a partner business that makes a composite concrete panel.
Installing non-window walls is another avenue Envision Global will likely pursue as it grows.
And grow it will. In addition to having expanded market rights, Envision Global recently opened a manufacturing facility in Thailand, which will help it reach into Asian markets. And it received a significant investment from Sustainable Growth Fund, a Luxemburg-based firm that invests in companies committed to sustainability and efficiency.
Now, Envision Global is in search of international partners who are just as committed to its vision for better buildings, Von Hagen says.
For Von Hagen, the benefits of “better buildings” and energy-efficient glass are clear. He has an eleven-year-old son and lives 30 miles east of a coal powered electricity plant. “The more energy efficient we can make our cars and our buildings, that’s a lot less things we have to spew into the world.”