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Advanced Glazings, Norbec venture a ray of sunlight for buildings

'Daylighting' solutions radically alter the way natural light streams inside structures

The 45Drives headquarters in Sydney, N.S. (Courtesy Advanced Glazings)
The 45Drives headquarters in Sydney, N.S. (Courtesy Advanced Glazings)

Sydney, N.S.-based Advanced Glazings Ltd. (AGL) is taking its operations to the next level by partnering with Norbec to deliver a state-of-the art solution to the way light is transmitted into metal panel buildings.

Under the leadership of its co-founder and executive chairman, Doug Milburn, AGL has pioneered the development and manufacture of a new type of translucent glass. 

Its trademark Solera and SoleraWall "daylighting" solutions radically alter the way natural light streams inside buildings. Those solutions allow the company to help foster a new class of "healthy," more energy-efficient buildings that have far less need for artificial lighting and offer improved temperature control.

This strategic alliance allows AGL to deploy its cutting-edge Solera tech in cooperation with Boucherville, Que.'s Norbec, a developer of insulated metal panelling.

This will allow AGL to gain greater traction marketing its daylighting technology to architects and developers by extending its reach to metal building projects.

Benefits of the Norbec partnership

The partnership further enables AGL to realize the vision Milburn has brought to the building sector for nearly 30 years while dedicating himself to advancing the cause of sustainable building design.

"At AGL, we have always been committed to leading with products that continue to set new standards and unlock next-level possibilities for architects and occupants," Milburn said in remarks accompanying last month's announcement of the partnership.

"Norbec is an outstanding partner as they are equally committed to excellence, and we’re thrilled to bring our solution to their offering to create the ultimate product for metal buildings."

Solera lowers energy costs, improves employee performance

For over a decade, AGL has given architectural firms and property developers the technological means of allowing more light and less heat into buildings during warm months, while drastically reducing heat loss in cold months. But convincing building owners to upgrade from traditional window installations is often difficult.

"Not that long ago, everyone would ask ‘what’s it cost to go green?’ Now everyone gets that there is a big risk if you don’t go there," Milburn explained. "Natural light and fresh air are critical to a high-quality workplace, so we need to bring part of the outdoors back inside.

"We didn’t know how to do that within the constraints of our technology, so we built dark boxes and occupants suffered. The work we are doing with Norbec is changing that, and represents a huge next step in making it practical and cost effective to build much better spaces within the steel building paradigm." 

Adding momentum is heightened public consciousness over lowering our carbon footprint and creating healthier workplaces and living spaces. This gives AGL an ideal setting in which it can apply daylighting – the controlled transmission of natural light into a building – to solving the problem of dark, drafty and otherwise energy-inefficient buildings.

"By combining what AGL is doing on top of what Norbec is doing, we're able to take steel buildings up the curve, by injecting high-quality light and views while maintaining or enhancing energy efficiency. Best of all, we do this without sacrificing the advantages in simplicity, build speed and cost that steel buildings have versus other approaches."

The upside AGL's translucent glass panels 

Advanced Glazings Ltd. co-founder and executive chairman, Dr. Doug Milburn. (Courtesy Advanced Glazings Ltd.)
Advanced Glazings Ltd. co-founder and executive chairman, Doug Milburn. (Courtesy Advanced Glazings Ltd.)

The primary advantage of Solera is that it spreads light out as widely as possible, thereby converting direct beam sunlight into soft, gentle daylight diffused widely inside buildings.

"I have always though of AGL as an innovative company," Milburn said. "We created Solera which is a special kid of translucent glass that acts as an optimal light diffuser.

"The other great advantage of Solera is that it is the best insulating glass in the world and it can go up to R-25 insulation value, whereas typical vision glasses come in at the R-3, R-4 range."

In the last few years AGL has seen its revenue more than double, largely due to increased impetus within the property sector to enter the sustainable spectrum coupled with stringent government legislation and new building codes mandating higher sustainability standards.

In addition, employees and building occupants are demanding greater attention to wellness. These concerns have been magnified in the post-pandemic era as public institutions and private corporations have been introducing advanced HVAC systems to lower carbon emissions and reduce energy costs.

Partnership compared to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

Norbec was a natural fit for AGL given that both companies are invested in designing and installing advanced panelling systems for buildings while working with architecture firms to implement this upgrade in building design.

"Our partnership with Norbec is an example of what you see in the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercial where the peanut butter is combined with the chocolate," Milburn said with a laugh. "We developed our SoleraWall daylighting solution as a solar wall product which is very specifically designed to work with insulated metal panels.

"We're making glass panels that actually clamp directly on the primary structure of buildings without framing. So if you leave the framing out of the equation, you save on labour, time and money, and your building costs are automatically lowered."

AGL's translucent glass panels also allow builders to avoid the problems of heat loss and heat penetration that come with the thermal bridging associated with traditional window framing. 

"You put pieces of aluminum, vinyl, or whatever else you are using from the inside to the outside of a building. And that creates a nice pathway for your heat from inside the building to escape during the cooling season and vice-versa when it's hot outside," Milburn said. "So our SoleraWall tech not only allows you to avoid this thermal bridging issue, but it's also more material and cost efficient and extremely compatible with metal panels."

AGL's path to sustainable building

Milburn, a native of Nova Scotia, completed his Ph.D in mechanical engineering at Ontario's University of Waterloo in 1995. 

Building on his research work at Waterloo's Advanced Glazing Lab and Solar Thermal Lab, he set out to create a new form of translucent glass. 

"When AGL first went into the market, no one was really paying attention to building health or environmental concerns . . . So it's been a hard slog. But now builders are seeing that when you create higher-insulating envelopes, building comfort goes way up," Milburn said.

The introduction of ASHRAE 90.1 insulated building envelope standards will also increase demand for AGL's Solera tech, to meet these new requirements regarding glass and energy efficient building design. 

These new North American standards establish what Milburn describes as "a design route for compliance" and mandates new buildings can only use 30 per cent glass and the rest of the surface structure needs to be an opaque wall.

"Well, there are lots of lots of buildings like Walmarts that can easily meet that standard, but they're not very nice buildings to look at and they're definitely very not very nice buildings to be in.

"So that's another important factor in why we're having a massive amount of interest in our (glass panel) technology and we're getting involved in some really large-scale projects. The beauty of Solera is that the installation value of a solar unit often exceeds that of wall. You can build a wall as thick as you want as with as good insulation as you want. 

"So you can go down the engineered compliance route and build an all-glass building envelope if you use Solara in addition to vision glass. And then you get this other beautiful thing – an all-glass building. They look nice, they're pretty cool and they're nice to walk through."

Renewable energy, sustainability driving AGL's corporate thinking

An underlying philosophical principle of AGL, as defined by Milburn, is the overarching need to reduce energy consumption and shift toward renewable sources to help create a greener environment.

"I did my PhD in solar energy (at the) University of Waterloo and I've watched the solar energy industry struggle to make inroads. But as an entrepreneur, I'm a believer in what we need to do, and we all know that we have to transition off fossil fuels," Milburn said. 

"I don't want it to appear as if I'm doing anything saintly, but I thought I would like to make my livelihood by starting a company that I knew would have a long hard road ahead of it, being well ahead of the market.

Milburn believes the next decade for AGL will be 'awesome'

"But when I see that we will soon have thousands of buildings up and running that people will walk through, work in, and be able to shop under natural light conditions thanks to our daylighting solutions, that's very satisfying," Milburn said.

Milburn recalls how Steven Selkowitz, one of the leading figures in daylighting research who headed up the Building Technologies Department at Lawrence Berkeley Labs in California, presented a paper at a conference 15 years ago: "Despite his optimism regarding daylighting technology, he was disappointed about how there were so few daylighted buildings.

"We need to reassess this whole new field that we're in and remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of changing building design. Our translucent daylighting approach is changing that landscape. We put our money where our mouth is, and it's happening.

"All the stars are in alignment for us right now. So it's fun and I'm proud of what we've done so far. The next decade for us is going to be awesome."

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