Air-conditioned buildings are a welcome relief to people going inside on a hot summer day. But creating that comfort can be expensive and harmful to the environment. As a possible solution, researchers report the development of a new material for clothing that we could one day don as our own personal cooling unit, without any external energy needed to power it.
Functionalized clothes have become the norm in recent years. There are now moisture wicking, smell-proof athletic gear, shirts and tops coated with a chemical layer that blocks ultraviolet rays. Clothes that help cool us down have been harder to achieve. So far, such attempts have resulted in materials that incorporate bulky components that are expensive and that require a lot of energy. Liangbing Hu and colleagues from the University of Maryland College Park wanted to see if they could come up with a practical option.
The researchers combined boron nitride — a material that transfers heat — and polyvinyl alcohol to create a nanocomposite fiber that can be 3D printed and woven into the fabric. Testing this material on skin showed that the composite is 1.5 to 2 times more efficient at moving heat away from the body when compared to pure polyvinyl alcohol or cotton fabrics. Making clothes with the nanocomposite thread could help keep wearers comfortable and reduce the need to cool entire buildings.
The paper on this research was published in ACS Nano.