After five years and more than $1 million in engineering costs, Apogee says its new commercial building glass, CrystalGray, is 20 percent more energy-efficient than any of its other products.

"We think this can reduce occupants' electrical [heating and cooling] consumption by up to 30 percent, compared to a building without an energy-efficiency product," Apogee CEO Russell Huffer said. "That is very huge. This is the sweet spot of what architects have been asking for."

CrystalGray is an exterior building glass that doesn't use mirrors or a very dark shading technology to shield workers inside tall buildings from the sun. It uses a special coating that bends light, shielding out hot rays of sun in the summer and holding in heat in the winter.

The special coating used to make this new "sustainable architectural glass" took 24 engineers about five years to design. Introduced in November, the company said it is now winning orders from around the country. Hospitals in Dallas and Chicago ordered the glass for buildings that will soon be under construction. (Apogee is also using the specialty glass for its new manufacturing building being built in Wausau, Wis.)

"It will easily exceed $10 million in sales the first year, and I would expect it could reach $200 million a year in sales" over time, Huffer said.

The glass, which is being sold by Apogee's building glass subsidiary Viracon in Owatonna, Minn., is intended for buildings that have 40 percent of their exteriors covered in glass. Its energy-efficient characteristics are attractive to architects who covet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

"Today, every leading architectural firm has a LEED-certified architect on staff. It's really interesting," Huffer said. Two and a half years ago, he added, hardly any could be found.

The glass, which recently was presented at a U.S. Green Building Council trade show, has been certified by the Lawrence Berkeley Labs, a firm that evaluates products for environmental efficiency.

Viracon's energy-efficient glass products have been critical to Apogee's growth. In 2006, Viracon debuted 600,000 square feet of its then-newest product, Solarscreen T VRE-59 insulating glass, in the newly rebuilt 52-story 7 World Trade Center in New York City. Its glass also covered the new Minneapolis Library and the new Great River Energy headquarters building, which will open on Earth Day in Maple Grove. That building is applying for one of the few Platinum LEED certifications in the world.

Depending on the model chosen, Viracon's CrystalGray VE, VNE or VRE-19 windows let in as much as 51 percent of daylight, while keeping out as much as 89 percent of summer heat. The result is bright visibility without cooking the occupants inside tall, traditionally warm skyscrapers, officials said.

"We are finally getting recognized as someone who is not only able to help them build the building and get it done right, but who can also significantly reduce the cost to the occupants for years to come," Huffer said.

Apogee's fiscal 2007 sales grew 17 percent, to $779 million. Earnings grew 33 percent, to $31 million.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725