The hotter the climate gets, the more we turn on the AC (for the privileged who may have such access). Since 16 of the 17 warmest years have been since 2000, energy consumption by air-conditioning may triple by 2050, equaling the current electricity use of the European Union, Japan, and United States – combined. Enter SkyCool: a wafer-thin reflective material that radiates infrared, thermal energy at a very precise wavelength that slips quietly through Earth’s atmosphere, into space. Normally, heat energy is trapped in the atmosphere, so that’s very good news indeed.
But there’s more, and it’s cool news. The same infrared, thermal energy can be used to cool water moving through pipes to a just noticeable difference a few degrees cooler than, say, a school or an office building. That’s like AC, but better. While New Yorkers may be interested, many of the future customers will be in China, India, and Indonesia – expected to consume half of all the demand for air-conditioning in the future. China noted a 45% increase in the air-conditioner market in 2017. The new technology could reinvent air-conditioning and cool buildings, with greatly reduced emissions.
There’s historic precedent: when the Hoover Dam was built, 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete were used; so much that a bucket of concrete went through the overhead cable delivery system every 78 seconds. But that much concrete would have taken 100 years to cool. Builders (a consortium called Six Companies included J.F. Shea Co.; MacDonald & Kahn; Morrison-Knudsen; Utah Construction; and a joint venture formed by W.A. Bechtel, Henry J. Kaiser, and Warren) devised a structural system of 582 miles of steel pipes within the concrete; they filled the pipes with ice-water, causing the concrete to cool and harden, and then they emptied the pipes of water but left the supporting structure to further strengthen the edifice.
Air-conditioning is a global market of $50 billion. Will the innovation, product of the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University, change the future? Inventors Aaswath Raman, Eli Goldstein, (along with earlier team members) and Shanhui Fan are optimistic. Winner of the SXSW Eco Startup Showcase, the innovation is called SkyCool Systems, Interested? Catch Aaswath Raman’s TED talk here.
Baraniuk, Chris. “How trying to stay cool could make the world even hotter.” 18 June 2018. BBC/Business.
Temple, James. “A material that throws heat into space could soon reinvent air-conditioning.” 12 September 2017. Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608840/a-material-that-throws-heat-into-space-could-soon-reinvent-air-conditioning/
Raman, Aaswath. “How we can turn the cold of outer space into a renewable resource.” 22 June 2018 TED Talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a5NyUITbyk
SkyCool Systems. Aaswath Raman, Eli Goldstein, Shanhui Fan. https://tomkat.stanford.edu/innovation-transfer/skycool
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Licen