Melting buildings could help solve the energy crisis

As a measure to save energy, the new Molecular Engineering and Sciences building at the University of Washington melts in the heat of day. Seriously.

The outer structure of the futuristic building is, of course, structurally sound. But to save energy in cooling costs, scientists have developed a special all-natural phase-changing gel that they've encapsulated inside the walls of the building. As the temperature rises, the gel in the walls will melt, helping to keep the building cool.

The brilliance of the vegetable-oil-based gel is that it takes advantage of a basic thermodynamic principle: As a substance changes phases from solid to a liquid, it absorbs energy without changing in temperature. During the day when temperatures are high, the gel in the building's walls will melt, absorbing energy without changing in temperature. At night, the gel in the building's wall will solidify due to the colder air, readying the walls to absorb more energy the next day. The net result: Less air conditioning will be needed, reducing the building's energy needs.

The phase changing material is just one of many innovative cooling techniques currently being tried by scientists to reduce energy usage. And though these gels are not widely used today, researchers believe that over the next decade, phase change materials manufacturing will grow into a multi-million dollar industry.

[Image credit: garryknight]


This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca

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