Plastic fabric to keep you cool

In hot weather, it is hard to keep cool, especially since the summers keep getting warmer because of climate change. Clothing is something that contributes to the heat, as it does not allow infrared, the heat we radiate, to pass through. To counter this effect while remaining decent, researchers from at Stanford University have invented a new type of fabric, made of polyethylene.

The new fabric can cool the human body in two ways. Like most other fabrics, such as cotton, the fabric allows sweat to pass through it to evaporate, cooling the body. The second way, however, is new. Because the fabric allows the heat we radiate to pass through as well, the body can cool off even more.

Normally, polyethylene, a plastic also used in kitchen wrap and bottles, is see though and does not allow perspiration to pass through. However, the researchers chose a type of plastic used in batteries containing nanopores, a thousandth of a human hair in width, causing the fabric to be opaque to normal light, but, like other plastics, invisible to infrared light, allowing heat to pass through. Additionally, the pores enable the plastic to breathe. It is also treated by benign chemicals to enable water to evaporate through it, just like with natural fibres.

The engineers created the fabric by applying two layers of the new material to a layer of cotton, to make it more fabric-like. Compared to cotton clothing, the new fabric enables the skin temperature to be 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler. Because the polyethylene is already mass-produced for the use of batteries, the fabric is low-cost to make.

According to the inventors, clothing made from the new textile could actually lower the costs of air-conditioning, because people wouldn’t need as much outside help to cool off. While the fabric is already soft and flexible, it misses the texture of normal cloth, which is what the researchers are currently working on. They have already made a woven version of the textile, which is currently being tested.

Courtesy photo’s: Yi Cui Group/Stanford University/L.A. Cicero