Staying cool in the British summer: Have scientists found the perfect material to help us cope with the heat?

To say the UK is not famed for its hot weather is, ironically, putting it mildly.

We are a country of radiators, fireplaces, and dissatisfaction.

We love the sun, but we hate it. When blue becomes grey and the heavens open, we’re delighted, but heartbroken.

Scientists have warned that climate change is dragging us on an unrelenting course towards extreme weather, including more hot summers. Which is good, but ultimately very bad. When temperatures soar, it comes with health risks and can pose problems for us all.

Last year, heatwaves in 2019 led to an extra 900 deaths in England. Our homes are not equipped to deal with hot weather when it arrives. Experts have said that air-conditioning is likely to become more widely used in the UK to reduce heat vulnerability. But it comes at an expense.

In the US, air conditioning and other space cooling methods account for about 10% of all electricity consumption. It is more efficient to build cooling systems into new buildings rather than relying on expensive air conditioning units, which are not environmentally friendly.

An effective and energy-saving personal cooling technology is in high demand. And a solution might have arrived.

Personal Cooling Fabrics

According to new research, a new material has been developed that cools the wearer.

Yes, longer-term the answer might be to put clothes on to keep us cool.

Yang Si, Bin Ding and his colleagues at ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces have developed a personal cooling fabric that could efficiently transfer heat away from the body, while also being breathable, water repellent and crucially, easy to make.

The researchers made the new material by electrospinning a polymer (materials made up of long, repeating chains of molecules), a water-repelling version of the polymer and a thermally conductive filler into nanofibrous membranes. Simple.

These membranes repelled water from the outside, but they had large enough pores to allow sweat to evaporate from the skin and air to circulate. In tests, the thermal conductivity was higher than that of many other conventional or high-tech fabrics.

The membrane could be useful not only for personal cooling, but also for solar energy collection, seawater desalination and thermal management of electronic devices, the researchers say.

With hotter weather to become yet another ‘new normal’, let’s hope we see such personal cooling fabrics on the rails at Zara and River Island quicker than we can say ‘pass me a Capri-Sun’.

Photo by Galvão Menacho from Pexels, with thanks.

Related Articles