Sinking heat to space: Could this be the next big thing in air cleaning?

Everyone and their sibling in the field of climate science it seems having anything and everything to do with searching for the end all, be all with regard to course-correcting, anthropogenically-prompted global warming and climate change, is looking for that one silver bullet. As far as I know, no one has yet to find this elusive animal. However, ongoing study in this domain may be getting us closer.

What I’m talking about specifically is advancing the science of cooling. Cooling, as we are aware, involves the surface removal of heat: from an object, from materials, from the skin, etc.

Perspiration is the vehicle for human cooling.

In a refrigerator, on the other hand, this is achieved via cooling liquid circulating through metal tubes around which ambient air passes. In an automobile with an internal combustion engine, the process is quite similar, only a radiator for engine cooling is employed instead.

Now, what if there was a way to remove heat from an object or material and dispatch that thermal energy to space? Well, there is.

In fact, a Sept. 4, 2017 Stanford University press release provides some lowdown.

Writer Taylor Kubota in the “Sending excess heat into the sky,” press release explained: “Although our own bodies release heat through radiative cooling to both the sky and our surroundings, we all know that on a hot, summer day, radiative sky cooling isn’t going to live up to its name. This is because the sunlight will warm you more than radiative sky cooling will cool you.”

To demonstrate the process of radiative sky cooling, a team of researchers at Stanford University field-tested a system incorporating a highly reflective material the objective of which was to cool flowing water by reflecting most of the sunlight, while at the same time sinking heat to space, the result being the flowing water cooled to below the outdoor air temperature. All of this done in the absence of an external electricity supply applied.

“The experiments published in 2014 were performed using small wafers of a multilayer optical surface, about 8 inches in diameter, and only showed how the surface itself was cooled,” Kubota added.

System researchers, meanwhile, “… applied data from this experiment to a simulation where their panels covered the roof of a two-story commercial office building in Las Vegas – a hot, dry location where their panels would work best – and contributed to its cooling system. They calculated how much electricity they could save if, in place of a conventional air-cooled chiller, they used [a] vapor-compression system with a condenser cooled by their panels. They found that, in the summer months, the panel-cooled system would save 14.3 megawatt-hours of electricity, a 21 percent reduction in the electricity used to cool the building. Over the entire period, the daily electricity savings fluctuated from 18 percent to 50 percent,” Kubota went on in the release to report.

The science, technology, apparently, has grown by leaps and bounds since.

The most salient quality of the radiative sky cooling capability, in my humble opinion, is the energy-/electricity-savings component. This, of course, could have implications for air cleaning.

By cutting down on the amount of utilized electricity needed, means a less energy-generation or -production requirement, particularly helpful in situations where the energy produced involves the burning of fossil fuels. As to the positive implications having to do with lowering climate and global warming greenhouse gas emissions, these could be profound.

For more information, see: “Sending excess heat into the sky,” Stanford University press release, Sept. 4, 2017,

– Alan Kandel

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