‘Cooling’ fabric offers alternative to air conditioning

Emilee Geist

A cooling fabric that could be used for clothes as a replacement for air conditioning has been created by scientists.

The new material is said to reduce body temperature by conducting heat away to the outside air while also repelling water. Researchers have said cooling down an individual’s body is more efficient than air-conditioning an entire room or building.

It is hoped the new design could eventually serve as an alternative to air-conditioning systems, which in the UK are said to account for around 10 per cent of electricity consumption.

Clothing with cooling properties has been on the market for some time, but it is typically expensive and time-consuming to produce. The new material, however, is said to be easy to make, raising the possibility that it could be taken up on a larger scale as part of efforts to be more environmentally conscious.

It is created by a process of electrospinning, combining various polymers with water-repellent qualities and a filler that is thermally conductive.

This produces a type of nanofibre with membranes that repel water from the outside but have large enough pores for sweat to evaporate from the skin and for air to circulate.

Dr Bin Ding, the co-author of a study into the material, at Donghua University in Shanghai, said: “We wanted to develop a personal fabric that could efficiently transfer heat away from the body, while also being breathable, water-repellent and easy to make.

“Cooling off a person’s body is much more efficient than cooling an entire room or building.”

He said the thermally conductive filler coated the nanofibres of the material, “forming a network that conducted heat from an inside source to the outside air”. “In tests, the thermal conductivity was higher than that of many other conventional or high-tech fabrics,” he added.

Scientists hope the fabric could be used for other purposes, such as solar energy collection, seawater desalination and ensuring electronic devices do not overheat.

The invention came as air-conditioning sales rose rapidly in recent years, largely driven by emerging economies, raising concerns about the toll being taken on the environment.

There will be 4.5 billion single-room air-conditioning units in the world by 2050, making them almost as popular as mobiles phones today, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Most air-conditioning units contain potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are several thousand times stronger at absorbing heat than carbon dioxide.

Air-conditioning units are expected to produce more than one billion tons of CO2 over the next 30 years, according to the IEA.

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