Researchers at the nanoscience lab at the University of Central Florida have developed a “revolutionary new kind of cooling paint” as described in this recent WIRED article.
Humans have been creating materials to paint with for thousands of years and in more recent times these have been made by crushing “minerals, heavy metals, or chemicals that we swish into oil and spread over a canvas or car”. Obtaining the raw materials for such paints and the manufacturing process itself is often damaging to the environment and the resulting paints also can be toxic (for example, think of lead paint). This way of creating a colourful substance that we can put onto surfaces is very different than the way nature produces colour.
In nature “colors come from topography. Submicroscopic landscapes on the outer surfaces of peacock feathers, beetle shells, and butterfly wings diffract light to produce what’s known as structural color. It’s longer-lasting and pigment-free. And to scientists, it’s the key to creating paint that is not only better for the planet but might also help us live in a hotter world.”
The scientists who created this paint believe it to be “the lightest paint in the world—and they mean that both in terms of weight and temperature. The paint consists of tiny aluminum flakes dotted with even tinier aluminum nanoparticles. A raisin’s worth of the stuff could cover both the front and back of a door.”
This means that covering a Boeing 747 would take only about 1.3kg (2.9 lbs) of paint rather than 500kg (1,100 lbs) which would have a huge effect on the amount of fuel required. The scientific team also found that “unlike conventional paint, structural paint doesn't absorb infrared radiation, so it doesn’t trap heat. The new paint is inherently cooling in comparison: Based on the lab’s preliminary experiments, it can keep surfaces 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than conventional paint.”
It is always good to be skeptical of advances that promise massive, quick and easy solutions to thorny climate change problems but this looks like an invention to watch.