New heat-regulating building material could cut building heating and cooling costs

Researchers at the Ningpo, China campus of the University of Nottingham (UNNC) have created a new heat-regulating material that could be used to cut the heating and cooling costs of buildings. The non-deformed storage phase change material (PCM) can be fixed so that it starts absorbing any excess heat above a pre-determined temperature and releasing stored heat when the ambient temperature drops below the set point. The researchers say the material can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes, even small enough so that it can be sprayed as a microscopic film to surfaces in existing buildings.

The researchers at UNNC’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies say the novel material possesses a larger energy storage capacity with faster thermal response than existing materials and could be cheaply manufactured. The basic structure of the material has to be engineered for a specific temperature before it is used and the research team, led by Professor Jo Darkwa, who is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies, is now looking at creating material that can be used for both heating and cooling applications.

“The material won’t make air-conditioners obsolete, because you still need an air conditioner to control humidity and air movement. This material purely reduces the amount of excessive heat energy in a room,” said Professor Darkwa.

The material created in the lab looks like a circular tablet with the circumference of a large coin, but can be manufactured in various shapes and sizes so it can be applied anywhere, from walls and roofs to wallpaper, the researchers say. They believe it has the potential to save up to 35 percent of energy in a building and could also be used to enhance the efficiency of solar panels and LED lighting.

The scientists have already been awarded a patent application approval in China for the novel material, with applications in the pipeline in other countries. The UNNC is looking to develop the material further and commercialize it.

“The construction industry produces more carbon emissions than any other industry in the world — even more than aviation. In China, the building sector is one of the highest energy consuming sectors, accounting for about 30 per cent of total energy usage and also a significant proportion of pollutant emissions. This material, if widely used, could make a major impact in the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emission,” said Professor Darkwa.

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