Scientific breakthrough: University invents heat-regulating building material
In a major scientific breakthrough with important long-term environmental consequences, researchers at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) have developed a material that will cut the amount of energy a building uses by more than one-third.
The material has the remarkable quality of being able to retain and release heat according to the specific temperature requirements for a building and will help dramatically reduce heating and cooling bills.
It 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 can be used in existing buildings as well as during the construction of new real estate and 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, the University was in a position to announce this week, and patent applications are in the pipeline in other countries.
It was invented by researchers at the University’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies.
The scientists responsible for the invention 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.
“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% of total energy usage and also a significant proportion of pollutant emissions,” noted Professor Darkwa.
“This material, if widely used, could make a major impact in the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emission,” he said.
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.
Professor Darkwa said the University is looking to develop the material further as well as commercialise it.
It already has a number of sponsors and partners involved in the research, including the Ningbo Science and Technology Bureau – which provided important funding and support for the initial two-year research – and private companies based in China.
The material could save up to 35% of energy in a building and scientists believe it could also be used in solar panels and LED (light-emitting diode) lighting to enhance the efficiency of these alternative energy-generating technologies.
Also on the cards for further research at UNNC are:
• Exploring which types of paints can be used with the unique material;
• Studies to determine the long-term environmental impacts of the use of the materials; and
• Ways to improve the production of the material to enhance cost efficiency and ensure the process is environmentally-friendly.
The new material is called: novel non-deformed energy storage phase change material (PCM).
The scientists at the Centre for Sustainable Energy Technologies, meanwhile, are involved in various other projects aimed at finding ways to reduce the global carbon footprint emitted by the world’s buildings.
Professor Darkwa and Dr David Chow, who leads the Architectural Environment Engineering degree programme, have played a major role in work behind new building regulation laws in Ningbo, China. Building developers in the city are compelled to include at least one sustainable energy technology, among other steps, to reduce any environmental harm associated with construction.
China’s national government is on a major drive to improve the country’s environmental track record and the University’s scientists are increasingly involved in making recommendations to policy makers at the highest levels.
In October, UNNC will be the site of China’s second international symposium on low carbon buildings when scientists, researchers, government officials and practitioners will gather to present and discuss recent research outputs and demonstration projects.
Professor Nabil Gindy, Vice-Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at UNNC, said: “The University’s strategic investment in research infrastructure to facilitate the advancement of knowledge in sustainable energy technologies is reaping rewards.
“We are very proud of the research excellence of this particular team of scientists, who have proven to be world-class specialists in the field of sustainable energy technologies. The University of Nottingham has a longstanding commitment to the global environmental agenda,” he said.
The University’s cutting-edge research feeds into all teaching programmes and PhD students, like Mr Zhou, also get the opportunity to make valuable contributions to the advancement of science, he noted.
Professor Gindy said: “Vital for our scientific progress here, too, is the huge support we receive from the Ningbo city authorities, who also recognise the importance of minimising environmental harm and placing sustainability at the forefront of all endeavours.
“We are, of course, also grateful for assistance from our research collaborators at other universities and in the private sector,” he said.
The full cost of the research entailed in developing the new building material has not been disclosed. However, it was made possible through various grants, including from the Ningbo government, KK Chung Educational Group, Hong Kong-based Sustainable Sourcing Ltd and China’s Suntech Ltd.