Stanford engineers invent high-tech mirror to beam heat away from buildings into space

Stanford engineers have invented a material designed to help cool buildings. The material reflects incoming sunlight and sends heat from inside the structure directly into space as infrared radiation – represented by reddish rays. (Illustration: Nicolle R. Fuller, Sayo-Art LLC)
Stanford engineers have invented a material designed to help cool buildings. The material reflects incoming sunlight and sends heat from inside the structure directly into space as infrared radiation – represented by reddish rays. (Illustration: Nicolle R. Fuller, Sayo-Art LLC)

A new ultrathin multilayered material can cool buildings without air conditioning by radiating warmth from inside the buildings into space while also reflecting sunlight to reduce incoming heat.

Stanford engineers have invented a revolutionary coating material that can help cool buildings, even on sunny days, by radiating heat away from the buildings and sending it directly into space.

A team led by electrical engineering Professor Shanhui Fan and research associate Aaswath Raman reported this energy-saving breakthrough in the journal Nature.

The heart of the invention is an ultrathin, multilayered material that deals with light, both invisible and visible, in a new way.

Invisible light in the form of infrared radiation is one of the ways that all objects and living things throw off heat. When we stand in front of a closed oven without touching it, the heat we feel is infrared light. This invisible, heat-bearing light is what the Stanford invention shunts away from buildings and sends into space.

Of course, sunshine also warms buildings. The new material, in addition to dealing with infrared light, is also a stunningly efficient mirror that reflects virtually all of the incoming sunlight that strikes it.

The result is what the Stanford team calls photonic radiative cooling – a one-two punch that offloads infrared heat from within a building while also reflecting the sunlight that would otherwise warm it up. The result is cooler buildings that require less air conditioning.

“This is very novel and an extraordinarily simple idea,” said Eli Yablonovitch, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneer of photonics who directs the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science. “As a result of professor Fan’s work, we can now [use radiative cooling], not only at night but counter-intuitively in the daytime as well.”

The researchers say they designed the material to be cost-effective for large-scale deployment on building rooftops. Though it’s still a young technology, they believe it could one day reduce demand for electricity. As much as 15 percent of the energy used in buildings in the United States is spent powering air conditioning systems.

In practice the researchers think the coating might be sprayed on a more solid material to make it suitable for withstanding the elements.

“This team has shown how to passively cool structures by simply radiating heat into the cold darkness of space,” said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter, professor emeritus at Stanford and former director of the research facility now called the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

A warming world needs cooling technologies that don’t require power, according to Raman, lead author of the Nature paper. “Across the developing world, photonic radiative cooling makes off-grid cooling a possibility in rural regions, in addition to meeting skyrocketing demand for air conditioning in urban areas,” he said.

USING A WINDOW INTO SPACE

The real breakthrough is how the Stanford material radiates heat away from buildings.

Read more . . .  

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