Air conditioning use takes a toll on the electrical grid–and on wallets. Now, a California startup has a space-age idea for changing that.
SkyCool Systems, a company spun out of Stanford, has created a system that could change the way people cool their homes. It doesn’t just involve keeping your home or office pleasant. The system will tackle the heat itself, by beaming it into space.
To do so, the system takes advantage of everyday science. Objects on earth give off heat in the form of an invisible type of light called infrared radiation. Emissions in the mid-infrared range of eight and 13 micrometers slip through the atmosphere and into the cool lower layers of space. The phenomenon is why objects under the open sky at night–like leaves, grass, or your car windshield–collect frost even when the temperature of the surrounding air is above freezing.
According to MIT Technology Review, SkyCool invented a material that can take advantage of this natural occurrence. The material–which it makes in long sheets that look like smooth, creaseless aluminum foil–radiates infrared light within the eight to 13 micrometer range. It also reflects 97 percent of sunlight, which prevents the sun’s warmth from offsetting the effect.
SkyCool’s co-founders, who include a professor of electrical engineering and a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, first published a study about their material in Nature in 2014. They created SkyCool as a way of commercializing the tech.
By forming the material into panels and placing them over thin pipes used by air conditioning systems, the startup thinks it can lower the cost of keeping buildings cool. In one trial, SkyCool lowered the temperature of water in pipes by 9 degrees Fahrenheit within three days of installation. The company estimates that, for a two-story office building in always-toasty Las Vegas, that reduction would lower annual electricity costs by 21 percent. For most buildings retrofitted with the system, it says, those savings would fall within the range of 10 to 20 percent.