About 10% of all electricity consumption in the U.S. is devoted to keeping us cool with air conditioning and other methods. Researchers at two universities in Shanghai, China have developed a new material that can be made into clothing that cools the wearer without using any electricity.
The new fabric transfers heat, allows moisture to evaporate from the skin, and repels water. Cooling off a person’s body is much more efficient than cooling off an entire room or a building. There have been textiles and types of clothing designed to perform the cooling function, but most of those have disadvantages. These include some combination of poor cooling capacity, high energy consumption, complex and time-consuming manufacturing, and high cost.
The researchers wanted to develop a personal cooling fabric that can efficiently transfer heat away from the body while at the same time being breathable, water resistant and easy to make.
The new fabric is made by electrospinning an ordinary polyurethane polymer with a water-repelling fluorinated version of polyurethane polymer along with a thermally conductive filler composed of boron nitride nanosheets. The resultant material is a nanofibrous membrane that repels water from the outside but has large enough pores to allow sweat to evaporate from the skin and air to circulate.
Tests of the membrane demonstrated higher thermal conductivity than other conventional or high-tech fabrics. Used in clothing, the material would be more effective than previous fabrics in conducting heat away from the body. It may be possible to beat the heat without turning on the AC. These membranes could also be useful for solar energy collection, seawater desalination, and thermal management of electronic devices.
Photo courtesy of the American Chemical Society on Youtube.