Glass will clean up by 2023

Leo Pyrah, product manager at Pilkington UK, discusses the growth of the self-cleaning glass market and outlines the opportunities this will create for the glass and glazing sector.

The market for self-cleaning glass has flourished since its inception in 2002, resulting in opportunities for glaziers and fewer dirty windows for homeowners and building managers.

Its growth doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon, either. The potential gains for manufacturers and suppliers are outlined in a new report by research body, Research and Markets, which projects 24% growth for the global self-cleaning glass market over the next five years, from $99.1 million in 2018 to $122.7 million in 2023.

This represents a significant boost for the product category, which is still relatively young in comparison to other forms of coated glass. We launched the first commercially available self-cleaning glass, Pilkington Activ, only 16 years ago, and since then we’ve sold more than 10 million square meters of it.

Research and Markets’ report suggests that over the next few years the housebuilding sector will present the greatest opportunity to supply self-cleaning glass, globally.

There’s set to be plenty of opportunity in commercial applications too, particularly as awareness of the product grows, and as more specifiers recognise that self-cleaning coatings can be combined with other functionalities, like solar control, for example.

Focusing on the UK, further demand for self-cleaning glass is likely to come as the high-rise construction pipeline grows, with more towers expected to be constructed during 2018 than in the previous ten years.

There’s a large cost associated with cleaning high-rise developments because of the size of the building envelope. A self-cleaning coating can help to cut property-management costs by reducing the need to deploy rope-access cleaners, all while helping to keep buildings consistently cleaner.

But it isn’t just cost savings that are attractive to developers. Independent research by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) showed that if Pilkington Activ was used in a 12-storey office building almost 100,000 litres of water would be saved over its lifetime – so there are clear sustainability benefits, too.

The cost and water saving benefits of self-cleaning glass also apply in residential settings, where there’s even a case to be made about how the product can improve health and safety.

BRE research from 2006 showed that falls from ladders when cleaning windows were found to result in 20 deaths and 1,500 major injuries. While an estimate for the number of deaths avoided through using self-cleaning glass would be hard to come by, it is reasonable to assume that less frequent window cleaning would have a positive impact on this statistic.

One factor that may have hindered the market’s growth in its infancy was a lack of recognised standards of performance, which meant products offered varying quality. But now, the glass and glazing industry is adhering to a standardised minimum performance level for self-cleaning glass. This is helping generate further confidence in the product and is helping to increase customer demand.

Last year, Pilkington Activ was independently verified to meet the new European Standard for self-cleaning glass; EN 1096-5 tests and classifies the self-cleaning performance of coated glass. It is the only independent assessment that can verify the performance of products that use hydrophilic and photocatalytic properties to enhance the cleanliness of the glass.

The introduction of standards like EN 1096-5 should help to drive the market forward. Not only does it provide peace of mind for homeowners, but it also enables specifiers to differentiate between products with an official self-cleaning performance and those without.

As glass continues to be the go-to material for the design of modern buildings – whether residential or commercial – self-cleaning functionality will grow in popularity. After 2023, it’s likely that we’ll see further growth for the product category, especially as its benefits are recognised by customers and performance standards rise.