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This new fabric is like wearing an air conditioner

Published Jul 30th, 2020 2:44PM EDT
cooling fabric
Image: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris

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  • Researchers have developed a new type of fabric that is great at conducting heat while also being breathable and water-resistant. 
  • The material is designed to cool an individual by shedding their body heat more efficiently than other types of textiles.
  • Its inventors say that it could have wide-ranging applications, including cooling electronics and even being used in solar energy applications.

Air conditioning systems are incredible things. They allow us to live comfortably in extremely hot seasonal climates, and they’re relatively cheap and easy to use. Unfortunately, they’re also huge power hogs, sucking up electricity and contributing to climate change as a result.

Personal cooling solutions that keep a person comfortable without the need to cool an entire room would be ideal, and researchers have been working on new textiles that do just that. Now, a new paper published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces reveals the invention of a new type of wearable fabric that essentially pumps heat away from the body and allows the wearer to remain cool as a result.

The new fibers were created by zapping a polymer solution with electricity, building strands that were particularly well equipped to conduct heat. This was due to the individual nanofibers being coated in boron nitride nanosheets. When tested against other fabrics that claim to dissipate heat, the team found that their textile had superior heat conduction.

Heat conduction is just one piece of the puzzle, however, and the resulting textile had to also be breathable. In testing the material, the researchers found it to be water-resistant, which is great when it comes to sweat but was also porous enough that air could easily pass through the spaces between fibers. This gives the material breathability, while its heat conductive properties take body heat and radiate it to the surrounding air. It’s kind of like having your own personal radiator to shed body heat when you get too hot, and it all happens automatically.

“The strategy causes boron nitride (BN) to be linked with each other along nanofibers, and thus the membranes contain well interpenetrated BN network and remain porous structure simultaneously, improving their thermal conductivity without sacrificing the moisture permeability,” the researchers write. “In addition, the membranes possess good resistance to water penetration and intriguing superhydrophobicity due to the synergistic effect of the hydrophobic polymeric matrix and improved roughness.”

The scientists aren’t ready to declare this the next great fabric, but they are moving forward with the idea that the textile could have wide-ranging applications. In the future, the researchers say that not only could the nanofibers be used in fabrics designed to keep people cool, but its heat-conductive properties could make it viable for solar energy collection and even cooling systems in electronic devices.