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51 Bird protecting glass

Solution 50 in a 1-a-day series of 366 creative, hopeful ideas to clean up, repair, protect our planet:

Problem:

Billions of birds are killed annually following collision with the large panes of glass used in modern buildings.

Solution:

Bird protection glass with an ultraviolet-reflective coating. Birds can see the coating, but it is virtually invisible to humans.


In the late 1990s Dr. Alfred Meyerhuber, a German attorney with a personal interest in birds and science read an article in a magazine about orb weaver spiders and their use of stabilimenta. Orb weaver spiders, common worldwide, build their distinctive webs using strands of silk with UV reflective properties.

Meyerhuber was good friends with Hans-Joachim Arnold, the owner of Arnold Glas, a manufacturer of insulated glass products headquartered in Remshalden, Germany. As a young business owner, Arnold was motivated by technical and environmental challenges and looked for ways to set Arnold Glas apart from its competition.

When Meyerhuber brought the orb weaver spider’s strategy to his attention, Arnold was intrigued. Despite initial resistance by the board of directors, he convinced the company to undertake the necessary research and put his company to work developing a product that would have the same UV-reflecting qualities as spider silk.

Arnold Glas’s Head of Research and Development, Christian Irmscher, led the technical product development of ORNiLUX. The coating was developed together with technicians at Arnold Glas’s sister company, Arcon, located in Feuchtwangen, Germany, which specializes in thin low-e and solar coatings for architectural glass.

The companies tested many different coating types and patterns. The researchers found that a patterned coating (versus a solid coating) made the contrast of the glazing more intense: the coated parts reflected UV light while the interlayer sandwiched between two layers of glass absorbed the UV light. The two functions together enhanced the reflective effect.

Although the specific pattern of a spider’s web inspired the solution, Irmscher and his team had to design a unique pattern for the window coating in order to make the application process practical.

After patenting the transparent UV coating in 2001, Arnold Glas introduced ORNiLUX SB1 Bird Protection Glass, its first commercial product using the technology, in 2006. The vertical lines of UV-reflective coating used in this product were sometimes perceptible but very subtle and not visually distracting.

Three years later, the company introduced an improved second-generation product, ORNiLUX Mikado. The name refers to the crisscrossed UV pattern of the design and comes from the German name for the game of pick-up sticks.

The new pattern and improved coating of Mikado is nearly invisible to the human eye. Independent pre-market testing by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, demonstrated that ORNiLUX windows are highly effective at protecting against bird strikes.

The first project in the USA to use ORNiLUX was at the Center for Global Conservation at the Bronx Zoo and was completed in 2009. The architects specified ORNiLUX SB1 for the entire building, but in the end it was used in only a corner conference room that had the biggest risk of bird strikes.

An ongoing monitoring program has noted a dramatic difference between the portions of the building with and without the bird-safe glass.

A year later, Munich’s Hellebrunn Zoo used ORNiLUX Mikado in the design for a new outdoor polar bear exhibit. Due to the zoo’s location near the Isarauen Nature Reserve, which harbours many wild kingfishers, bird collisions were a significant concern.

The zoo had other outdoor glass enclosures with a history of bird strikes, and previous attempts to use hawk silhouettes and bamboo plantings to protect the birds had failed.

ORNiLUX Mikado was used for the polar bear enclosure and pelican house. Zoo officials were pleased to find a solution that did not block visitors’ views of the animals and noted in the first months after it was installed that no birds had collided with the glass.

Ongoing testing of existing and new configurations continues with American Bird Conservancy’s Flight Tunnel Test Facility located at the Carnegie Museum Powdermill Nature Reserve in Rector, PA.  Additional tests are conducted with a flight tunnel facility in Rybachy, Russia.

At the American Institute of Architects Expo in June 2019, Arnold Glas debuted new oversize production capabilities for its bird-safety glass, ORNILUX. It is now offered in a maximum size of 126 x 472 in (320 x 1200 cm).

What you can do: Tell local architects and builders about Ornilux.

Discover Solution 52: How to stop birds crashing into solar panels

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