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Nano-inks could reduce energy needed to heat and cool buildings

Professional Engineering

The inks could be laminated, sprayed, or added to paints and building materials (Credit: Dr Mohammad Taha, University of Melbourne)
The inks could be laminated, sprayed, or added to paints and building materials (Credit: Dr Mohammad Taha, University of Melbourne)

New ‘nano-inks’ with integrated nanotechnology have “enormous potential” to reduce the energy needed to heat and cool buildings, their creators have said.

The inks, which change phase to control temperature, could also enable passive climate control of vehicles, according to the developers at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Research leader Dr Mohammad Taha said the inks could be used to develop coatings to achieve passive heating and cooling, reducing the reliance on energy generation to regulate temperature.

“Humans use a lot of energy to create and maintain comfortable environments – heating and cooling our buildings, homes, cars and even our bodies,” Dr Taha said.

“We can no longer only focus on energy generation from renewable resources to reduce our environmental impact. We also need to consider reducing our energy consumption as part of our proposed energy solutions, as the impacts of climate change become a reality.

“By engineering our inks to respond to their surroundings, we not only reduce the energy expenditure, but we also remove the need for auxiliary control systems to control temperatures, which is an additional energy waste.”

Passive climate control could enable comfortable living conditions without unnecessary energy use, the researchers said. To provide heating in winter, for example, the inks on a building facade could change phase to allow more solar radiation to pass through during the day, and greater insulation to keep warmth in at night. In summer, they could transform to form a ‘barrier’, blocking heat radiation from the Sun and the surrounding environment.

The proof-of-concept inks could be laminated, sprayed, or added to paints and building materials, the team said. They could potentially also be incorporated into clothing, regulating body temperature in extreme environments, or used in wearable electronic devices.

“Our research removes the previous restrictions on applying these inks on a large scale cheaply. It means existing structures and building materials can be retrofitted. With manufacturing interest, the inks could reach market in five to 10 years,” Dr Taha said.

“Through collaboration with industry, we can scale up and integrate them into existing and new technologies as part of a holistic approach to tackling the world’s climate change energy challenges.”

He added: “The potential of this material is huge, as it can be used for so many different purposes – like preventing heat build-up in laptop electronics or on car windshields. But the beauty of this material is that we can adjust its heat absorption properties to suit our needs.

“Already, a different type of phase change material is used to manufacture smart glass, but our new material means we can engineer smarter bricks and paint.”

The breakthrough was achieved by discovering how to modify one of the main components of phase change materials, vanadium oxide. Phase change materials use triggers, such as heat or electricity, to transform under stress. They previously needed to be heated to very high temperatures for their phase changing properties to be activated, however.

“We used our understanding of how these materials are put together to test how we could trigger the insulator to metal (IMT) reaction, where the material basically acts as a switch to block heat beyond a particular temperature,” Dr Taha said.

The researchers now plan to take the phase ink research, patented by the University of Melbourne, to production.

The work was published in The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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