Transparent aluminum windows: fantasy or the future?

—By Katy Devlin, commercial glass and metals editor, Glass Magazine

Feb. 24, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a story about the future of the automobile—specifically, how car designs of tomorrow will adapt to meet the world’s energy efficiency needs. The cars will likely run on alternative fuels, be connected to other cars on the road through Wi-Fi, and possibly feature transparent aluminum as an alternative to glass.

In the article, Frank Markus, technical editor for Motor Trend, Detroit, said the idea of aluminum windows is science fiction at this point. However, researchers at St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M have developed an alumina glass that could evolve into an everyday product in the next 25 years, according to the article.

Transparent aluminum windows would be lighter and stronger than glass, making it an attractive alternative for cars, according to the article.

According to a September 2004 article from Technology Research News, 3M’s non-silica glass product, alumina glass, is also scratch resistant and transmits a broader range of light. Manufacturing methods at the time of the article only allowed for thin film applications of the product.

So, are transparent aluminum windows really the future? Will we start seeing aluminum windows on buildings and in homes? Should the industry prepare? Or, is it just science fiction?

Tell us what you think.

For the Star Tribune article, click here (registration required).


Coating glass with a thin, scratch resistant layer of aluminum oxide is not the same thing as transparent *metal*. Star Trek concepts make buzz, not glass. Still, the design ideas for scratch resistance on auto glass would be a nice feature.
Because we are in the "glass" industry, it would be appropriate for us to be aware of what glass is. Glass is amorphous solid, lacking a consistent crystaline lattice structure. It has nothing to do with silica content. The alumina-based 3M product is probably just another glass (depending upon the molecular order established during the deposition process). Those who consider glass to be only soda-lime float can take comfort from the fact that, even though it is easy to produce stronger glass, it will be very difficult to produce a more economical glass.