When it's hot and humid outside, you pump up the air-conditioning in your car or inside your house to feel cooler. However, such electric devices carry environmental consequences.
Air conditioning units consume energy supplied by power plants, which generate electricity by burning fossil fuels. As a result, power plants can discharge clouds of pollutants such as soot, carbon dioxide (CO2) and mercury into the atmosphere.
And as we all know, too much CO2 in the atmosphere can increase Earth's temperature and cause a "greenhouse effect."
With that in mind, scientists from Stanford University have proposed a solution that may potentially reduce our reliance on energy-consuming devices that cool our homes and buildings.
Kitchen Wrap Material
When a person is at rest, half his body heat is dissipated into the atmosphere through infrared radiation. Blankets and clothes that keep us warm during the colder months can do so by trapping the radiation.
However, even light clothing can capture much of that infrared radiation and keep us warm when we want to cool down. Additionally, synthetic fibers in wicking technology that kick into gear when we sweat can still trap the infrared energy.
Now, as reported by Tech Times, Stanford researchers have invented a material that would dynamically cool our bodies if it were merged into clothing. They chose the material polyethylene because it has the property of allowing infrared energy to pass straight through.
The only problem is that kitchen wrap is transparent with respect to visible light and people would not want to appear naked in public, scientists said. Because of that, researchers used a polyethylene variant found in battery making as it has the benefit of being opaque.
The material's chemical properties were then modified so that the second issue was fixed: the fact that polyethylene does not permit water to pass through. Researchers then tested the material against a cotton fabric.
The Future Of Clothing
In the end, Stanford scientists found that the kitchen wrap material allowed the surface to cool more than a cotton garment by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). Although it may appear statistically insignificant, one expert believes that such a shift could save up to 45 percent of the energy required for cooling inside a building.
Indeed, Svetlana Boriskana, a nano-engineer who was not involved in the study, says the basis of the research already has precedents in nature: the hairs on the body of the Saharan silver ant.
Boriskana says the Saharan silver ant's hairs are fine enough to reflect and scatter sunlight, avoiding overheating by absorption.
"Removal of the hairs increased the ant temperature by a couple of Celsius degrees," says Boriskana, who is an expert from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
So is the Stanford team's new material the fabric of the future? Po-Chun Hsu, one of the researchers of the Stanford study, says the findings confirm that such a material can permit freer flow of infrared energy and help a person stay cooler.
However, Hsu acknowledges that scientists are still in the early phases of finding the best method to incorporate the new material into clothing. The polyethylene material may either be added into conventional fabric or it may be turned into a woven textile.
"We're exploring all kinds of possibilities," added Hsu.