Silicone microfluidic system could cut air conditioning costs
ERJ staff report (BC)
Boston, Massachusetts – A bioinspired microfluidic circulatory system for windows developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University could save air conditioning energy and cut cooling costs dramatically, while letting in just as much sunlight.
A specially fabricated sheet of Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) silicone rubber contains a network of fine channels which function as a circulatory system. Water is pumped through the channels on hot, sunny days, which should help keep both windows and the air inside buildings cool.
The researchers found that pumping “just half a soda can's worth of water” through the window's circulatory system would cool a full-size window pane by 8°C. The energy needed to pump water would be far less than the heat energy the water absorbed, they say, suggesting that installing the cooled windows throughout a building would generate “a big net win”.
The Harvard team developed a new method to build large-scale microfluidic devices. They first use a vinyl cutter – a computer-controlled device that cuts intricate patterns on large vinyl sheets – to create a plastic mould. They then pour liquid silicone rubber into the mould, allow it to solidify, and remove it, creating a thin sheet threaded by fine channels.
The same circulatory system could also cool rooftop solar panels, allowing them to generate electricity more efficiently, the researchers report in an article in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells.
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Press release from Wyss Institute
Peer-reviewed article in Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells