So, how cool would it be to have energy-free AC without having to rely solely on solar? The answer from most people would be pretty #@$% cool! Well, the good news is that thanks to a new plastic wrap on the horizon, that possibility may not be that far off in the future. While the words “plastic wrap” usually conjure up images of some type of cling wrap for preserving food, this new super wrap is nothing of the kind. Unlike solar panels of the past, this new super material would continue to work effectively even after the sun goes down without the use of electrical power or battery backup. The best part about it? It’s constructed of inexpensive materials that are simple to mass produce.
Heat-Reflecting Plastic Wrap
No thicker than aluminum foil, this new super material could be used to cool homes and even power plants with no need for traditional electricity or water consumption. That’s because the material itself is capable of manipulating the properties of light by reflecting the rays of the sun and at the same time allowing whatever it’s encasing to cool by infrared thermal radiation. According to co-director of research, mechanical engineer and materials scientist Xiaobo Yin at the University of Colorado in Boulder, the material is extremely promising. He recently stated, “We feel that this low-cost manufacturing process will be transformative for real-world applications.”
Eco Friendly Energy Solutions
Yin is part of a team of engineers at CU Boulder that has developed this scalable metamaterial. If you’re wondering — like the rest of us lay people — what a metamaterial is, it’s an engineered material with extraordinary properties not found in nature. This super wrap basically acts as a type of air conditioning system for structures, even under direct sunlight. This means that whatever you’re wrapping it around can be cooled at very little cost. This would be a great way to supply additional cooling to thermoelectric power plants, which require tremendous amounts of hydro-cooling and electricity in order to maintain safe operating temps of their components.
Advantages of Metamaterial Technology
Ronggui Yang, a team member on the project, stated, “The key advantage of this technology is that it works 24/7 with no electricity or water usage. We’re excited about the opportunity to explore potential uses in the power industry, aerospace, agriculture and more.” While this is exciting, the general public will be more excited by the news that just 10 to 20 meters of this film on a rooftop has the potential to “nicely cool down a single-family house in summer.” Reducing energy costs is, after all, what interests the average man or woman on the street when it comes to this type of technology.
Boosting Solar Energy Returns
As an added bonus, wrapping this material around the surface of a solar panel will cool the panel and allow for recovery of an additional 1 to 2 percent of solar efficiancy, which is said to make a big difference at scale. Anything that boosts returns is obviously welcome. The innovative invention is the result of a $3 million grant, and the engineers behind it have already applied for a patent for the technology in addition to working directly with the Technology Transfer Office at CU Boulder for exploring what they hope will be the many potential commercial applications that could come from it. This year, their plans are for creating a 200-square-meter “cooling farm” prototype in Boulder. If the technology pans out, the applications would seemingly be endless and a real boon for the rest of us.