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Banerjee offers 'moonshot' proposal at forum

Sarbajit Banerjee

UB faculty member Sarbajit Banerjee lectured about energy-saving smart windows at the Solve for X @ Global Diaspora Forum. Photo: Douglas Levere

Published June 17, 2013

This technology is of particular interest in developing countries, where the use of air conditioning is rising
Sarbajit Banerjee, Associate Professor of Chemistry at UB
Co-director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics

Sarbajit Banerjee, co-director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics, delivered a fast-paced “moonshot” proposal in Washington, D.C., this month as part of Solve for X @ Global Diaspora Forum.

The subject of his lecture: how coating roofs and windows with nanomaterials can help keep buildings cool on hot days.

The Solve for X website, launched in February 2013, is a forum to encourage and amplify technology and science-based “moonshot” thinking and collaboration.

The centerpiece of Solve for X, an initiative started by Google[x], is a series of moonshot talks in which scientists, engineers and other innovators put forth proposals.

Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; instead of “mere 10 percent gains,” they aim for “10x improvements,” in the words of Solve for X. The combination of a huge problem, a radical solution and the breakthrough technology that might just make that solution possible is the essence of a moonshot.

Banerjee was one of four researchers from MIT Technology Review magazine’s list of top innovators under the age of 35 who spoke at the Global Diaspora Forum on May 13 at the invitation of Solve for X, MIT Technology Review, the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Science and Technology Adviser, and USAID’s Office of Innovation and Development Alliances.

Banerjee’s eight-minute lecture was titled “Windows and roofs that adapt to the outside environment: Toward greener housing in the developing world.”

The Global Diaspora Forum celebrates the role of diaspora communities in development and diplomacy; Banerjee is a member of a diaspora, having immigrated to the United States from India.

As an associate professor of chemistry at UB, Banerjee works with a team of graduate and undergraduate students to develop new nanomaterials.

One material he is studying is vanadium oxide, a synthetic compound that reflects heat only when the temperature climbs past a certain point. His students have started a company to commercialize vanadium oxide window coatings, which would save energy by blocking the sun’s heat from entering buildings only on hot days.

This technology is of particular interest in developing countries, where the use of air conditioning is rising, Banerjee says.

“China added 50 million air-conditioning units in 2010,” Banerjee notes. “Not only is this straining nascent power grids, but it’s also dumping hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And this isn’t just a problem for houses, but also for cars, where by some accounts vehicle air-conditioning units in the United States alone use 7 billion gallons of gasoline each year.”