Fabric cools or heats as it reacts to the user
By PETER HOLLEY
If the wearer is sweating , for example, the fabric allows heat to escape. But when the temperature is cooler and the air drier, the fabric becomes more compact, retaining heat from the wearer’s body, researchers said. The researchers’ paper was published in the journal Science.
YuHuang Wang — a professor of chemistry and biochemistry who co-wrote the study — said he envisions a time when clothing becomes a “secondary skin” that helps people save energy and reduce the costs of air conditioning and heating by relying on them less intensely or shut them off entirely.
“This technology would allow you to regulate your local environment, and that would give people a much wider tolerability for the heating and cooling conditions inside a building,” Wang said.
Three-quarters of U.S. homes have air conditioners, which use about 6 percent of all electricity produced in nation , said the Department of Energy. In addition to costing homeowners $29 billion annually, air conditioners release about 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year, the agency said .
The research also offers a potential solution to another long-standing challenge, one that has inspired countless Inspector Gadget-like patents over the years: creating clothing that actively cools the wearer.
The fabric created by the Maryland researchers doesn’t rely on batteries or liquid.
It starts with a specially engineered yarn coated with a conductive metal. When conditions are warm and humid — such as when the wearer is working out — the strands of yarn activate the coating, which in turn warps the strands of yarn, bringing them closer together. Once that happens, researchers say, pores in the fabric open, allowing trapped heat to escape. When conditions are cold, however, the process is reversed and heat remains close to the body.
Though the fabric has been in development for about five years, Wang said researchers are just beginning the process of turning it into a commercial product, probably as a type of athletic wear initially. He said the fabric can be dyed, knitted and washed . Wang said he believes this clothing could have applications beyond athletics. “The performance may be effective for babies who need constant temperatures or perhaps the elderly or people who are sick,” he said.
- 6% Electricity produced in the U.S. that is used by air conditioners
- $29 billion Annual cost to homeowners from air conditioning usage
- 117 million Metric tons of carbon dioxide released by air conditioning each year