Summary: Thermal imaging and sensing technologies offer critical information about our thermally radiant world, and in recent years, have seen dramatic increases in usage for a range of applications. However, the cost and technical finesse of manufacturing infrared optical components remain a major barrier towards the democratization of these technologies. In this report, we present a solution-processed plasmonic reflective filter (PRF) as a scalable and low-cost thermal infrared optic. The PRF selectively absorbs sunlight and specularly reflects thermal infrared (TIR) wavelengths with performance comparable to state-of-the-art TIR optics made of materials like Germanium. Unlike traditional infrared optical components, however, the PRF can be conveniently fabricated using low-cost materials and a ‘dip-and-dry’ chemical synthesis technique, and crucially, has manufacturing costs that are orders of magnitude lower. We experimentally demonstrate the PRF’s core optical functionality, as well as its integration into infrared imaging and sensing systems without compromising their thermographic or radiometric capabilities. From a practical standpoint, the low cost and convenient fabricability of the PRF represent a significant advance towards making the benefits of thermal imaging and sensing systems more affordable and accessible. Scientifically, our work demonstrates a previously unexplored optical functionality and a new direction for versatile chemical synthesis in designing optical components.
Authors: J. Mandal,† Y. Chen,† C. Tsai, S. Shrestha, N. Yu, Y. Yang.
Journal Link: Science Advances, 6 (17), eaaz5413 (2020).
Summary: This work shows that paints can be carefully engineered to absorb visible colors complementary to the one desired (e.g. yellow, if you desire blue), and at the same time, transmit invisible solar heat. When a thin layer of such a paint is painted above a highly reflective coating (say a white paint, or some of the designs below), it can reflect solar heat much better than traditional single layer designs. This enables bi-layers (color paints on white coatings) to stay much cooler (e.g. by 5ºC) than traditional coatings of the same color, while using less colorants.
Note: Bilayer designs have previously been explored by Ronnen Levinson et. al. at the Heat Island Group in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. This work adds to those by providing physical justifications for the bilayer design, and proposing that a near-infrared (NIR) transparent top layer may be generally better than one that scatters NIR.
Authors: J. Mandal, M. Jia, A. Overvig, Y. Fu, E. Che, N. Yu, Y. Yang.
Journal Link: Joule 3, 1-12 (2019)
Download Paper + Supporting Information (accepted version)
Summary: This work shows that porous polymers, which normally scatter light and appear white due to the air voids in them, can be turned transparent or translucent by wetting them with suitable liquids. The idea itself has been known for as long as humans have noticed paper or cloth turn more translucent when wetted. What I try is to push it to a limit and use it for switchable cooling/heating applications.
The key to achieving a white to near-transparent switching is choosing the right liquid. In its porous form, the polymer contains air voids which have a different refractive index (n~1) from that of the polymer (n~1.4-1.5), causing light to scatter off the pores and yield the white colour. But if the pores are filled with a liquid that has the same refractive index as the polymer, then to light the whole system just behaves like one uniform material, so light transmits, as it would through glass.
We achieve this behaviour by using common materials and liquids, and also extend the switching behavior to thermal infrared wavelengths. Promisingly, the switching in the thermal is opposite to that in the solar wavelengths, meaning that porous polymers can switch from icehouse to greenhouse states – something that has not been observed with electrochromic or other switchable designs as far as I know.
With regard to applications, we show that this behavior can be used for switchable heating and cooling of buildings depending on the season, controlling daylight in buildings, thermal camouflage and other uses. Given the low cost and simplicity of the designs we use, they could potentially see large scale uses.
Authors: J. Mandal, Y. Fu, A. Overvig, M. Jia, N. Shi, K. Sun, H. Zhou, X. Xiang, N. Yu, Y. Yang.
Journal Link: Science 362, 315–319 (2018).
Summary: Passive Daytime Radiative Cooling is a process where an object under the sky reflects sunlight and radiates heat through the atmosphere into outer space. If an object has a sufficiently high solar reflectance and thermal emittance, solar heating is minimized and radiative heat emission into outer space is maximized. As a result, the object can achieve a net heat loss even under sunlight, and passively cool down to sub-ambient temperatures. Because this process is “zero-energy, zero-carbon”, it is a sustainable alternative to active cooling methods such as air conditioners, or an affordable cooling method in low-resource settings.
Most materials around us are excellent radiators of heat (much more so than what scientists and engineers often claim for their designs), however, they lack the other requirement, a high solar reflectance. One can take thermal emitters such as plastic sheets, or dielectric materials and back them with silver or aluminum to get daytime radiative coolers – this has been done since the 1970s, but it is difficult to apply such designs on buildings, where cooling is needed the most. Cool-roof paints with thermal emittances > 0.90 and solar reflectances ~ 0.85 come the closest to being viable designs, but even a solar reflectance of 0.85 is not high enough to prevent some heating under strong sunlight.
In this paper, we aim to achieve a radiative cooling design with a paint-like convenience using a solution-based phase-inversion method. Using a polymer-solvent-nonsolvent precursors (e.g. poly(vinylidene fluoride-co-hexafluoropropene)-acetone-water) and painting films of those on substrates, we create porous polymer coatings that have solar reflectances that can exceed 0.98 and long-wavelength infrared emittance of 0.97 – near perfect values for radiative cooling. During experiments under noontime spring sunlight (890 W m-2), these coatings are found to be cooler than the ambient air by 6°C (and potentially more). The cooling power is measured to be ~96 W m-2 in the same experiment. These performances, which exceed those of known (to me) designs, is obtained with a paint like convenience.
We further show that our technique is compatible with a wide range of polymers, can be used to coat a variety of substrates, and can also be used to create colored coatings that look the same but stay cooler than traditional designs. Collectively these findings represent a major advancement for practical daytime radiative cooling.
Summary: This work describes a “high-school chemistry”-based technique for making selective solar absorbers.
Selective solar absorbers are surfaces that are black and absorb sunlight, but unlike typical black surfaces, they do not radiate and lose heat. Therefore under sunlight, these surfaces become much hotter than typical black surfaces. The heat these surfaces capture from the sun can be used for heating or boiling water, desalination and even generating electricity – so these surfaces can be quite useful.
To my knowledge, the technique for making selective solar absorbers described in this paper is one of the easiest, fastest and most tunable, but yields high optical performance (wide angle solar absorptance > 96% and hemispherical thermal emittance < 10%) nonetheless. Given its scalability, it may be promising for widespread use.