Beer bottles that use solar power to keep their precious contents cool in the height of summer could be a welcome fringe benefit of thin-film technology currently under development.
The material being developed by researchers at the US Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sticks solar cells and heat pumps onto surfaces, and could ultimately turn walls, windows and even beer bottles into climate control systems.
Rensselaer researcher Steven Van Dessel and his colleagues have been working on the sci-fi technology for the past four years before recently unveiling their prototype Active Building Envelope (ABE) system.
Comprised of solar panels, solid-state thermoelectric heat pumps and a storage device to provide energy on rainy days, the system accomplishes the jobs of cooling and heating, yet operates silently and with no moving parts.
Van Dessel said that thin-film advances could lead to functional thermal coatings composed of transparent ABE systems. Such systems might vastly improve the efficiency of temperature-control systems.
"The ease of application would make it possible to seamlessly attach the system to various building surfaces, possibly rendering conventional air conditioning and heating equipment obsolete," he said.
Van Dessel hopes that a thin-film version of the ABE system will see applications in a range of industries, from advanced thermal control systems in future space missions, to the automotive sector where it could be applied to windshields and sun roofs to heat or cool a car's interior.
"It may also be possible to use the ABE system to create packaging materials for thermal control, which could lead to things like self-cooling soda bottles, " said Van Dessel.
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