Sending heat to space could be the future of air-conditioning

US researchers cool thermal emitter by radiating its heat into outer space

Physicists at Stanford University have discovered a way of radiating heat from Earth into outer space; an innovation which could lead to a new era of radiation air-conditioning which would not be out of place in the latest sci-fi blockbuster.

“To achieve high-performance cooling, the key is to couple whatever object you want to cool with outer space and to decouple it from the ambient environment,” says Zhen Chen, the scientist behind the futuristic research.

Chen and his team of physicists at the Californian university placed a thermal emitter in a vacuum chamber, where its temperature could not be affected by the atmosphere or conduction or convection heat transfer. The nutty professors then used a window within the chamber to radiate the heat from the emitter directly into the sky.

According to the New Scientist, thermal radiation wavelengths of between 8 and 13 micrometres can pass through the Earth’s atmosphere and into outer space. The researchers used a special thermal emitter which produces wavelengths within the 8-13 range to ensure the heat radiation can not rebound back into the Earth’s atmosphere.

After 24 hours in the vacuum chamber with the air being pumped out, the thermal emitter reached a temperature of 42.2 °C below the surrounding air temperature.

Chen said that this breakthrough discovery could be used for air-conditioning units situated on building roofs or could be used to cool medicine and food in warmer climates.

The downside of the innovation: overcast skies significantly reduce heat radiation capabilities. Something tells us this innovation is not suited to British weather…

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