Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)say they are making progress in developing a thin-film technology that could turn walls, windows, and, as theysuggest, even soda bottles into climate control systems.
Various companies have been attempting to design more convenience into their packaging, such as materials that can heat or cool food and drink products. Such products are designed for on-the-go, hot food and beverages but have had a checkered history.
RPI's thin-film technology adheres both solar cells and heatpumps onto surfaces said RPI researcher Steven Van Dessel and his scientific team.
Today they plan to announce their most recent progress -- a computer model to help themsimulate the climate within their test structure -- at the Solar 2006Conference in Denver, Colorado.
For four years, the researchers have been working on their prototype,which they label as an active building envelope (ABE) system.
It is made of solar panels, solid-state, thermoelectric heatpumps and a storage device to provide energy when the sun is not shining. TheABE system accomplishes the jobs of both cooling and heating, yet operatessilently with no moving parts.
Van Dessel said in a press release that the thin-filmadvances could potentially lead to functional thermal coatings composed oftransparent ABE systems. Such systems might vastly improve the efficiency oftemperature-control systems.
The National Science Foundation is supporting the team todetermine if a microscale version of the technology will function effectively.
Van Dessel said he hopes a thin-film version of the ABEsystem will see uses in a range of industries, from aerospace -- in advancedthermal control systems in future space missions -- to the automotive industry,where it could be applied to windshields and sun roofs, giving them the abilityto heat or cool a car's interior.
"It also may be possible to one day use the ABEsystem to create packaging materials for thermal control which could lead tothings like self-cooling soda bottles," hesaid.