Climate change is making the planet warmer so researchers are already on the lookout for ways that can help humanity better adapt to a warming world.
Clothes that can keep the skin cool can help alleviate the discomforts brought about by the warming weather and this is what a team of researchers from Stanford University are working on.
Material scientist Yi Cui and colleagues have modified the clear and clingy kitchen wrap commonly used to keep food fresh to develop a fabric that can cool the skin. Although the plastic wrap-inspired textile is not yet ready for use in the apparel market, it could potentially pave way to clothes that can help save energy and cost that would be otherwise spent on air conditioning.
For the study published in the journal Science on Sept. 2, Cui and colleagues worked on nanoPE, or nanoporous polyethylene, to produce a material that can help the body release heat.
Just like many existing fabrics currently used today, the material cools down the body by permitting the evaporation of perspiration. But it has another cooling mechanism that could potentially revolutionize the clothing industry: the plastic textile allows body heat in the form of infrared radiation to pass and escape the fabric as well.
To develop the cooling fabric, the researchers used photonics, nanotechnology and chemistry so polyethylene, the plastic used in kitchen wrap, would not be transparent in visible light and would allow air, water vapor and thermal radiation to escape through it.
The researchers used a variant of the polyethylene commonly used to make battery. This particularly plastic has a specific nanostructure that makes it opaque to visible light but transparent to infrared radiation, allowing body heat to escape.
They also treated it with chemicals that enable the evaporation of water vapor molecules through the nanopores in the plastic, which makes the textile breathable like a natural fiber.
Cui and colleagues then tested the cooling potential of the material. They found that compared with cotton fabric, the cooling textile makes the skin surface cooler by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers said that the difference means that a person wearing the new material would feel less inclined to use a fan or air conditioner.
"We processed the material to develop a textile that promotes effective radiative cooling while still having sufficient air permeability, water-wicking rate, and mechanical strength for wearability," the researchers wrote in their study.
"Our processed nanoPE is an effective and scalable textile for personal thermal management."