New engineered material can cool roofs, structures with zero energy consumption

A team of University of Colorado Boulder engineers has developed a scalable manufactured metamaterial — an engineered material with extraordinary properties not found in nature — to act as a kind of air conditioning system for structures. It has the ability to cool objects even under direct sunlight with zero energy and water consumption.

It basically works as a large reflector, sending back the solar energy coming in while allowing the object to cool down by releasing its own infrared thermal radiation. This material would be most effectively used on large, thermoelectric power plants which right now require large amounts of water and electricity to help them stay cool enough to operate.

The glass-polymer hybrid is only slightly thicker than the aluminum foil found in your kitchen, and can be manufactured on rolls, allowing it to be used in commercial and residential settings.

“We feel that this low-cost manufacturing process will be transformative for real-world applications of this radiative cooling technology,” said Xiaobo Yin, co-director of the research and an assistant professor who holds dual appointments in CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Materials Science and Engineering Program. Yin received DARPA’s Young Faculty Award in 2015.

“Just 10 to 20 square meters of this material on the rooftop could nicely cool down a single-family house in summer,” said Gang Tan, an associate professor in the University of Wyoming’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and a co-author of the paper.

In addition to helping cool your house, it could also be used to extend the life and effectiveness of solar panels. “Just by applying this material to the surface of a solar panel, we can cool the panel and recover an additional one to two percent of solar efficiency,” said Yin. “That makes a big difference at scale.”

“The key advantage of this technology is that it works 24/7 with no electricity or water usage,” said Yang “We’re excited about the opportunity to explore potential uses in the power industry, aerospace, agriculture and more.”

For more, check out the story from the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

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