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Chameleon-Like" Building Material Cools and Heats Homes with Ease

Revolutionizing the Way Buildings Regulate Temperature: "Chameleon-Like" Building Material Unveiled

Imagine having a building material that adapts to the weather outside, keeping the inside of the building warm on colder days and cool on hotter days, all while consuming a minimal amount of energy. This groundbreaking solution is no longer just a fantasy, thanks to the researchers at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME).

The team, led by Assistant Professor Po-Chun Hsu, has developed a unique and non-flammable "electrochromic" building material that has the ability to change its infrared color and the amount of heat it absorbs and emits based on the temperature outside. On hot days, the material can emit up to 92 percent of the infrared heat it contains, thus cooling the inside of the building, and on colder days, it emits just 7 percent, helping keep the building warm. This cutting-edge material allows buildings to maintain the temperature without using huge amounts of energy.

According to a study, buildings consume almost 151 EJ of energy, equivalent to 36 percent of the world's final energy consumption, with around 30 percent of this energy used for the operation of buildings and 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions being traced back to buildings. Half of this energy footprint can be attributed to the heating and cooling of interior spaces.

With the world facing increasingly extreme weather events due to global warming, it's imperative that we create buildings that can adapt to variable weather conditions in a more energy-efficient way. The newly developed building material can effectively do this.

The material is an electrochromic device that contains a layer that can either be a solid copper that retains most infrared heat or a watery solution that emits infrared. The device uses a tiny amount of electricity to trigger the chemical shift between these states by either depositing copper into a thin film or stripping that copper off. The material can switch rapidly and reversibly between the metal and liquid states and remains effective even after 1,800 cycles.

The team created models of how their material could cut energy costs in buildings in 15 different U.S. cities, and according to their findings, "the electricity used to induce electrochromic changes in the material would be less than 0.2 percent of the total electricity usage of the building but could save 8.4 percent of the building’s annual HVAC energy consumption." The researchers are now investigating different ways of fabricating the material.

Although the team has only created pieces of the material that measure six centimeters across, many such patches of the material could be assembled like shingles into larger sheets, and the material could also be tweaked to use different, custom colors without hindering its ability to absorb infrared.

This groundbreaking technology is not only a step towards a more sustainable future but also offers a feasible solution to retrofit poorly insulated or historic buildings. The researchers are continuing to work with engineers and the building sector to find ways to contribute to a more energy-efficient future.

In conclusion, the "chameleon-like" building material is a game-changer in the world of building temperature regulation, offering a low-energy solution to maintain the temperature in a building while reducing the energy consumption for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC). Get ready to say goodbye to energy-guzzling buildings and hello to a more sustainable future!


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