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LESO-PB technology helps win the 2019 Watt d'Or

A. Schüler, L. Burnier and O. Bouvard from LESO-PB with their award-winning glazing. © V. Moreillon

A. Schüler, L. Burnier and O. Bouvard from LESO-PB with their award-winning glazing. © V. Moreillon

Railway company BLS SA has won this year’s Watt d’Or award for its highly energy-efficient NINA trains. Among the technology featured in the trains is a special kind of window glass developed at EPFL’s Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (LESO-PB). The award was given out by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy at a ceremony on 10 January.

The NINA trains developed by Swiss railway company BLS SA have just won the 2019 Watt d’Or, in the Energy-Efficient Mobility category. The award – given out by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) on 10 January – indirectly recognizes technology developed at EPFL’s Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory (LESO-PB): an innovative kind of window glass for the train cars. LESO-PB’s windows provide better thermal insulation than conventional windows and let mobile phone signals pass through, ensuring a comfortable temperature for passengers as well as excellent mobile network reception (see our article from 29 August 2016).

“This award was possible thanks to the cross-disciplinary work carried out by our team and our entire lab,” says Andreas Schüler, head of the LESO-PB research group that developed the window pane. “As physicists, we were able to design a system that is based on fundamental principles and can immediately improve mobile communications on public transport. And through our partnership with glassmaker AGC, we were able to overcome the challenges of ramping up production and supply BLS with our special glass for its NINA train renovation program.”

Looking further out, the researchers plan to market their innovative window glass to the building industry, where they believe it could make a considerable impact. Initial tests are currently underway at the SolAce pilot unit in Empa’s NEST building in Dübendorf (see below).

Modernization program

As part of BLS’s 2015–2019 modernization program for its NINA trains, the company is making substantial improvements to its train design and passenger comfort. That includes enhancing the trains’ energy efficiency, according to the SFOE press release.

For example, BLS installed CO2 detectors so that passenger-car ventilation can be adjusted as needed. It also replaced the neon-tube lighting with laser crystal ceramics (LCCs) – lighting systems that consume 10–30% less power than LEDs. NINA trains will be the first in Switzerland to be equipped with LCCs.

These energy-saving measures will cut the NINA trains’ power requirement by 20%. Adding in the energy-efficiency improvements that BLS is implementing in its other trains, the total energy savings come to 13 million kWh – equal to the total annual power consumption of over 3,000 Swiss households.

NEST also a winner

The Watt d’Or Special Transition Prize went to the NEST building – short for Next Evolution in Sustainable Building Technologies. NEST is an initiative spearheaded by Swiss federal institutes Empa and eawag and brings together some 140 research centers, businesses and public-sector organizations. The building was constructed in 2016 to test systems for making construction methods more sustainable; LESO-PB’s technology is being used in the building’s SolAce unit (see our article from 25 September 2017). Each unit stays in the building for five to seven years before being replaced with new units featuring fresh ideas.


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