November 29, 2023

New Material Inspired by Butterfly Wings Can Passively Cool Cars and Buildings

A team of scientists from Shenzhen University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University has developed a new material that can reflect 100% of the light that hits it, while producing vibrant colors. Inspired by the intricate patterns found on butterfly wings and peacock feathers, the researchers created a film composed of alternating layers of titanium dioxide and aluminum dioxide, with a reflector made of pure silver at the bottom. This nanoscale structure allows the film to scatter and diffuse certain colors of light, giving it a vibrant appearance.

The key advantage of this new material is its passive cooling ability. Typically, darker colors absorb more light and heat up the material, making it hotter. However, the film developed by the scientists does not absorb any light, effectively keeping the surfaces it is applied to much cooler. This has significant implications for buildings, cars, clothing, and even cell phones, as it can reduce the need for air conditioning and lower energy consumption.

In buildings, a large amount of energy is consumed by cooling and ventilation systems. By applying this film to roofs or walls, the researchers found that the temperature of the surface remained substantially cooler compared to surfaces without the film, with differences of more than 15°C (27°F) in winter and an impressive 35°C (63°F) in summer. This could potentially lead to significant energy savings and contribute to energy sustainability and carbon neutrality.

The scientists tested different-colored films and found that they maintained their vibrant appearance while still reflecting all light. For example, a blue film remained blue from a variety of viewing angles and did not heat up due to its reflective properties. The team achieved high saturation and brightness by optimizing the structure of the film.

In future research, the scientists plan to explore using aluminum instead of silver for the reflector layer, which would make the material more affordable and easier to manufacture. They also aim to enhance other properties of the film to make it more durable.

This innovative material holds great potential for various applications in the automotive, architectural, and technological sectors. By incorporating this film into car exteriors, buildings, clothing, and electronic devices, we can achieve passive cooling and reduce the reliance on energy-intensive cooling systems. The development of such materials is a step forward in advancing energy sustainability and mitigating the environmental impacts of air conditioning.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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