New Sustainable Roofing Material Can Naturally Keep Buildings Cool Without A/C

Turning the air conditioning on the highest setting can be a sweet relief. But your resulting utility bill? Not so much. What if your home can only stay cool – no electricity needed?

Cooling paper from Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

That is the premise of Yi Zheng’s new invention. The associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University in Boston has created a durable material that can be used to keep buildings or other objects cool without relying on conventional cooling systems.

Zheng imagines this material, called “cooling paper”, which covers the roofs of houses, warehouses and office buildings.

The light-colored material not only reflects hot sun rays away from the building, it also draws heat from the interior – heat emitted by electronics, cooking and human bodies.

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Cooling paper is actually made of paper, and the porous microstructure of the natural fibers inside absorbs the heat indoors and releases it away from the building.

Zheng, who studies nanomaterials, got the idea when he looked at a bucket full of used printing paper. He remembers thinking to himself: ‘How can we easily convert that waste material into a functional energy material, composite materials?’

So, using a high-speed blender from his own kitchen, Zheng made pulp from waste paper, mixed with the material that makes up Teflon. Then he molded it into water-resistant “cooling paper” that could line houses. He and his team then tested its ability to stay cool under various temperature and humidity conditions.

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Zheng and his colleagues found that the cooling paper can lower the temperature of a room by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 C). He selected materials that would lower the cost of using the new technology to cool homes.

Yi Zheng (center) by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

The cooling paper is not only environmentally friendly in its ability to reduce your energy consumption. It is also recyclable. The material can be used, exposed to solar radiation, weather and varying temperatures, then reduced (again) to pulp and reformed without losing one iota of its cooling properties. Zheng has tried. And the recycled cooling paper performed just as well as the original.

“I was surprised when I got the same result,” Zheng says. “We thought there might be a 10 percent, 20 percent loss, but no.”

The process for creating and testing the new material was: described in a paper Published last month in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces of the American Chemical Society – and Zheng received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award grant for his research.

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Zheng isn’t just focused on lowering your energy bill through his research. He also hopes that his work contributes to the fight against climate change.

“The premise is to reduce the use of carbon-based materials and also to reduce global warming,” Zheng says.

(Edited from article in News from Northeastern University)

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