Researchers at the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China (UNNC) have invented a material that can retain and release heat according to specific temperature requirements. The material could be used in both new and existing structures and offer considerable energy savings.

The novel non-deformed energy storage phase change material (PCM) 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 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 scientists responsible for the breakthrough are project leader Professor Jo Darkwa, who is Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy Technologies, Research Associate Oliver Su and, Ph.D. 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 percent of total energy usage and also a significant proportion of pollutant emissions. This material, if widely used, could make a major impact in the world’s efforts to reduce carbon emission,” Darkwa 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 could potentially save up to 35 percent of energy in a building and scientists believe it could also be used in solar panels and LED 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 material
  • Ways to improve the production of the material to enhance cost efficiency and ensure the process is environmentally-friendly.