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UW Researcher Helps Develop Innovative Cooling Technology

February 23, 2017
people holding a piece of film stretched several feet outside
Gang Tan, a UW associate professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, was part of a research team that developed a cost-effective and eco-friendly method of cooling without energy and water consumption. A transparent polymer film has been shown to cool whatever it sits on by as much as 10-15 degrees Celsius. (Gang Tan Photo)

The landscape of energy technology could soon be vastly improved, thanks to the work of a University of Wyoming researcher.

Gang Tan, a UW associate professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, was part of a research team that developed a cost-effective and eco-friendly method of cooling without energy and water consumption, even under direct sunlight.

Tan is a co-author of a paper, titled “Scalable-manufactured randomized glass-polymer hybrid metamaterial for daytime radiative cooling,” which is published in the journal Science. The research, led by the University of Colorado-Boulder, was immediately reported by The Economist, Forbes, Scientific American, Energy & Environment News and other media outlets.

The method involves using the installation of a transparent polymer film that features miniature glass particles. Coated with silver, the material reflects incoming solar energy back into space while simultaneously allowing the structure underneath to shed heat in the form of infrared thermal radiation. The material has been shown to cool whatever it sits on by as much as 10-15 degrees Celsius. Additionally, Tan believes that just 10-20 square meters of this material on a rooftop could effectively cool a single-family house during the summer.

Facilities, such as power plants and data centers, generate enormous amounts of heat from energy. The method proposed by the research team removes the challenges inherent in current cooling methods, which require energy and resources to carry heat away. Radiative cooling draws on Earth’s natural method of cooling itself, taking heat from surfaces and pushing it into space as infrared radiation. Because the material is relatively inexpensive and can be mass produced, applications include passively cooling buildings and electronics like solar cells, which work more efficiently at lower temperatures.

“I was very excited and proud to develop a breakthrough and transformative technology for real-world applications,” Tan says.

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy awarded $3 million in 2015 to professors Ronggui Yang and Xiaobo Yin, of the University of Colorado-Boulder; and Tan. Other members of the research team include Dongliang Zhao, Tan’s former student who received a Ph.D. from UW in 2014.


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