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Study finds sustainable alternative to air conditioning in hot, arid climates

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Researchers from McGill University, UCLA and Princeton have found an inexpensive, sustainable alternative to mechanical cooling with refrigerants in hot and arid climates, and a way to mitigate heat waves during electricity blackouts.

The study focused on achieving a new benchmark in passive cooling inside naturally conditioned buildings in hot climates such as Southern California. Researchers examined the use of roof materials that radiate heat into the cold universe, even under direct sunlight, and how to combine them with temperature-driven ventilation.

These cool radiator materials and coatings are often used to stop roofs overheating. Researchers have also used them to improve heat rejection from chillers. But there is untapped potential for integrating them into architectural design more fully, so they can not only reject indoor heat to outer space in a passive way, but also drive regular and healthy air changes.

“We found we could maintain air temperatures several degrees below the prevailing ambient temperature, and several degrees more below a reference ‘gold standard’ for passive cooling,” said Remy Fortin, lead author and PhD candidate at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture. “We did this without sacrificing healthy ventilation air changes.” This was a considerable challenge, considering air exchanges are a source of heating when the aim is to keep a room cooler than the exterior.

The researchers hope the findings will be used to positively impact communities suffering from dangerous climate heating and heat waves. “We hope that materials scientists, architects, and engineers will be interested in these results, and that our work will inspire more holistic thinking for how to integrate breakthroughs in radiative cooling materials with simple but effective architectural solutions,” said Salmaan Craig, principal investigator for the project and Assistant Professor at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture.

Passive radiative cooling to sub-ambient temperatures inside naturally ventilated buildings by Remy Fortin et al., was published in Cell Reports Physical Science.

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