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High-Tech Material Cools Buildings, Sends Heat Into Space

This illustration shows a reflective panel that is coated with a material invented by Stanford engineers, designed to help cool buildings without air conditioning. (Fan Lab, Stanford Engineering)
High-Tech Material Cools Buildings, Sends Heat Into Space
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Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new material that can move heat out of buildings and into space. The researchers say the material can cool buildings even on hot days.

The cooling material is a very thin sheet with many layers that could be placed on a roof like solar panels. However, instead of turning sunlight into energy as solar panels do, the material turns heat into infrared radiation.

Shanhui Fan is an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University. He says that the panels have a layer of material that is like sand. He says that the panels act like a mirror. They take heat out of buildings and reflect the light from the sun. He says both the heat and sunlight are sent 100 kilometers into outer space.

"It's a structure that cools itself without electricity input, even under the sun. So, what it does is basically radiate heat to outer space and also reflect the sunlight so it doesn't get heated up by the sun. And the net result is you get something that if you put on the roof will have a temperature below ambient air temperature by a significant amount."

The panels are cool to the touch, even in the sun. Researchers say they can reduce the indoor temperature to nearly 5 degrees Celsius below the temperature outside.

Mr. Fan says it is like having a window into space. He says the heat is sent directly into space without warming the air.

He says buildings in developing countries that do not have electricity or air conditioning could use the panels.

“In areas where one is off-grid, there is a significant potential benefit for storing medicine or even food. In many of these situations, being able to reduce the temperature is important. And this would provide a way to do it."

The Stanford researchers described their technology in the science publication Nature. They say the main problem is creating actual cooling systems using the high-tech panels. They say it may be possible to develop a cooling spray that could be used on existing solid structures.

The researchers believe the cooling spray technology could be developed in the next three to five years. They say as much as 15 percent of the energy used in the United States is spent providing power to air conditioning systems.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Jessica Berman reported this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. Mario Ritter edited it.


Words in This Story

air conditioning – n. a system used for cooling and drying the air in a building, room, etc.

infrared – adj. producing or using rays of light that cannot be seen and that are longer than rays that produce red light

radiation – n. energy that comes from a source in the form of waves or rays you cannot see

solar panel – n. a large, flat piece of equipment that uses the sun's light or heat to create electricity

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