A new material allows cooling systems to vent excess heat to the upper atmosphere, increasing efficiency
Spotted: As the world heats up, there is a rapidly increasing demand for more cooling technologies. However, nearly 20 per cent of the electricity used in buildings around the world is already going to air conditioners and fans, with cooling accounting for around 7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. What is needed is more efficient cooling technologies, and this is exactly what US startup SkyCool hopes to deliver.
SkyCool grew out of research in the lab of Aaswath Raman at the University of Pennsylvania. The technology is based on infrared radiation and could improve the efficiency of cooling systems. All objects give off heat in the form of infrared radiation, and this heat is then trapped by the atmosphere. However, radiation given off in wavelengths of between 8 and 13 micrometres is able to escape into space. Raman and his team have developed a proprietary material that converts the infrared light leaving a surface into this wavelength range, allowing the heat to escape into space and cooling the object in the process.
The company’s technology can be applied in several ways. First, the company has developed a system of cooling panels, covered in SkyCool’s dual-mode film, that can improve any air conditioning or refrigeration system. The panels reflect sunlight and emit infrared radiation to the cold sky. Together these mechanisms keep the panels, and cooling fluid pumped through them, up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit below the ambient temperature with zero electrical input. As an add-on to an existing cooling system, SkyCool’s panels can improve efficiency by 10 to 40 per cent. And, in some situations, the panels can replace existing cooling systems altogether, in which case energy savings can reach up to 90 per cent.
The company’s optical film can also be used in other applications separate from the panels. For example, it can be applied to batteries, outdoor shade structures, metal roofs, or refrigerated vehicles, bringing the benefits of solar reflectivity and infrared radiation to these surfaces.
SkyCool has recently completed a $5 million Seed funding round, which will allow the company to move from the commercial-scale pilots to scaled deployments of its panel and film products. The company is focusing on deploying panels in commercial premises such as grocery stores, refrigerated warehouses, data centres, and similar buildings that require consistent cooling.
Cooling cities and other areas more efficiently is becoming a vital component to achieving net zero. Other innovations that are addressing this issue include insulation made from sheep wool and paint that passively cools buildings.
Written By: Lisa Magloff