Nov 10, 2017 | By Julia

As global temperatures continue to rise, air conditioning becomes much more than a luxury; for many, it’s essential to everyday wellbeing. Yet in addition to its often prohibitive cost, air conditioning remains a key purveyor of greenhouse gas emissions, one of the primary agents linked to climate change. It’s a vicious cycle, and an expensive one at that.

But that could be all about to change: researchers at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP) are hard at work developing a new textile that could, one day, don as our own personal cooling unit, without the need of any external energy source for power. Recently published in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Nano, the study, titled “Three-Dimensional Printed Thermal Regulation Textiles” investigates the potential of 3D printing in manufacturing high-tech fabrics designed to keep you cool.

The UMCP research builds on the growing trend of functionalized clothes seen around the world. Think moisture-wicking workout wear, smell-proof athletic gear, and outfits that block ultraviolet rays via chemical coatings. Despite the rise of such functionalized textiles, however, clothes that help cool us down have been much harder to achieve. Previous attempts have resulted in materials that are too bulky, require lots of energy, or are too high in cost. So, the UMCP team, based out of the University’s Materials Science and Engineering Department, wanted to find a more practical solution.

As outlined in the study, the researchers combined boron nitride, a material known for its excellent heat transferal capabilities, with polyvinyl alcohol. The result was a completely new nanocomposite fiber that can be 3D printed, and woven into different kinds of fabric. Extensive tests that simulated the high-tech material on human skin showed it to be 1.5 times more efficient than pure polyvinyl alcohol at sucking heat away from the body. Compared to cotton fabrics, the UMCP composite is twice as efficient at cooling down the wearer. In other words, clothes made with this 3D printed nano-composite thread could help keep wearers cool and comfortable, reducing the need for traditional air conditioning methods.

Of course, it may be some time before you can start buying personalized cooling sweaters off of store racks. As far as corporate applications go, a published scientific paper is still a ways off from fully-fledged prototypes or ready-to-wear retail. But as our global temperatures continue to soar, you can bet everyone from Nike to Spalding will want a piece of the pie.

The UMCP study was funded jointly by the U.S. Office of Naval Research - Young Investigator Program, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the U.S. Department of Energy, and the China Scholarship Council. Read the abstract in full here.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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