Aug 042011
 
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A new material that can retain and release heat according to specific temperature requirements could make a significant difference to the cost of heating and cooling buildings, scientists say.

Researchers based at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) believe their invention — which could be used in existing structures as well as new builds — could offer considerable energy savings. The novel non-deformed energy storage phase change material (PCM) has the unique advantage of possessing a larger energy storage capacity with faster thermal response than existing materials and could be cheaply manufactured.

If, for example, the required optimum temperature in a room is 22°C, the material can be fixed so that it starts absorbing any excess heat above that temperature.

The heat-regulating material, devised by researchers at the University’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies, could be applied anywhere, from walls and roofs to wallpaper.

The material looks like a circular tablet with the circumference of a large coin in the laboratory. It can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes, including so small that it can be sprayed as an unobtrusive microscopic film to surfaces.

The building material was recently awarded a patent application approval in China and patent applications are in the pipeline in other countries.

The scientists responsible for the breakthrough are project leader Professor Jo Darkwa, who is Director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies, Research Associate Oliver Su and, PhD student Tony Zhou.

Professor Darkwa said: “The construction industry produces more carbon emissions than any other industry in the world — even more than aviation. In China, the building sector is one of the highest energy consuming sectors, accounting for about 30 per cent of total energy usage and also a significant proportion of pollutant emissions.

“This material, if widely used, could make a major impact in the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emission.”

The basic structure of the material has to be engineered for a specific temperature before it is used. The next developmental steps will include creating material which can be used for both heating and cooling applications.

“The material won’t make air-conditioners obsolete, because you still need an air conditioner to control humidity and air movement. This material purely reduces the amount of excessive heat energy in a room,” said Professor Darkwa.

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