Story at a glance:

  • A professor has engineered “cooling paper” to sustainably control indoor temperatures.
  • The paper reflects heat away from rooftops and even sucks the heat out of homes and buildings.
  • Air conditioners emit roughly 117 million tons of carbon dioxide each year in the U.S.

A Boston professor created an invention that reflects the heat off of rooftops and even sucks the heat out of homes and buildings — and the real kicker is that it is 100 percent recyclable.

Yi Zheng, associate professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern University, created “cooling paper” so that a building or home could essentially keep cool on its own, with no electricity required, according to Northeastern University’s blog

The paper can cool down a room’s temperature by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit — a game-changing alternative to air conditioners that require a lot of electricity and money from home owners. 

In the U.S. alone, where three-quarters of all homes have air conditioners, these appliances release roughly 117 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. Air conditioners also use about 6 percent of all electricity produced in the U.S., and cooling down a home costs about $29 billion a year for homeowners.


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Zheng’s invention works through the “porous microstructure of the natural fibers” inside the cooling paper, which absorbs warmth and reemits it away from the building. The cooling paper itself is made out of common paper. 

The light-colored material is part of Zheng's studies into nanomaterials. His idea was first sparked after seeing a bucket full of printing paper.

“How could we simply transform that waste material into some functional energy material, composite materials?” Zheng thought, according to Northeastern.

Zheng and his team used a high-speed blender from his home kitchen to turn the paper into a pulp and mixed it with the material that makes up Teflon. 

The product can coat buildings and homes, reflecting solar rays away from the interior and even absorbing heat from cooking, electronics and human bodies out of the indoor space. 

Even when the paper is recycled, it still performs as well as the original.

“I was surprised when I obtained the same result,” Zheng says. “We thought there would be maybe 10 percent, 20 percent of loss, but no.”

For his efforts, the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials & Interfaces featured his invention, and Zheng won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award grant for his research.


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Published on Jun 15, 2021