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  • Ahmed Saleh

KAUST team creates solar-absorbing polymer film for innovative cooling solutions

Jeddah, January 23, 2024, A groundbreaking achievement by a research team from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has resulted in the development of a superabsorbent polymer film that utilizes solar energy and moisture to deliver innovative cooling solutions. In the face of escalating climate change impacts and the heightened demand for energy-intensive air conditioning, this development presents an opportunity to mitigate heat stress, reduce carbon emissions, and decrease electricity consumption.

The KAUST team devised a solution that seamlessly integrates radiative and evaporative cooling, eliminating the necessity for additional chemicals or energy inputs. This approach introduces passive cooling as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional air conditioning methods.

Evaporative cooling exploits water vaporization to lower temperatures, while radiative cooling releases thermal energy through materials with high thermal emissivity, effectively reflecting sunlight. Sodium polyacrylate, a superabsorbent polymer commonly found in products like diapers, serves as the cornerstone of this solution. The polymer powder absorbs ambient moisture, creating a reflective white film that counteracts solar heating. Leveraging thermal emissivity for radiative cooling and the absorption and release of moisture for evaporative cooling, this approach showcases versatility.

The study revealed that, even under partly cloudy skies, the film could lower temperatures by a notable nine degrees Fahrenheit (five degrees Celsius) without relying on electricity. The film's benefits extend to a reduced dependence on air conditioners, resulting in significant cuts in carbon emissions, lowered electricity bills, and improved economic viability.

KAUST researchers are actively refining the film, streamlining its production, and exploring faster, more cost-effective manufacturing methods. The ultimate goal is to deploy this cooling technology on various surfaces such as building roofs, solar panels, light-emitting diodes, and batteries.

According to KAUST, this development holds the potential to revolutionize cooling solutions, presenting a sustainable and eco-friendly substitute for traditional air conditioning systems. The technology could pave the way for a cooler and more environmentally conscious future.

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