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ABOUT 6% of the electricity generated in America is used to power air-conditioning systems that cool homes and offices. As countries such as Brazil, China and India grow richer, they will surely do likewise. Not only is that expensive for customers, it also raises emissions of greenhouse gases in the form both of carbon dioxide from burning power-station fuel and of the hydrofluorocarbons air conditioners use as refrigerants.
As they describe in a paper in this week’s Science, Ronggui Yang and Xiaobo Yin of the University of Colorado, in Boulder, have a possible alternative to all this. They have invented a film that can cool buildings without the use of refrigerants and, remarkably, without drawing any power to do so. Better yet, this film can be made using standard roll-to-roll manufacturing methods at a cost of around 50 cents a square metre.
The new film works by a process called radiative cooling. This takes advantage of that fact that Earth’s atmosphere allows certain wavelengths of heat-carrying infrared radiation to escape into space unimpeded. Convert unwanted heat into infrared of the correct wavelength, then, and you can dump it into the cosmos with no come back.