Could “personal thermal management” replace the need to heat buildings?
No more bundling up with lightweight silver nanowire clothing. Photo by Andrew Vargas via Flickr
A whopping 47 percent of the world’s energy is used to heat indoor spaces, and although until now, most efforts to reduce that number have focused on improving buildings and other structures, a new school of thought is making the issue personal with a concept for super-insulated, silver nanowire clothing. A team of Stanford University researchers recently published a paper in the journal Nano Letters outlining their findings for what they call “personal thermal management,” citing the silver nanowire’s ability to reflect back nearly 90 percent of a wearer’s body heat. By focusing on individuals, rather than buildings, the Stanford team hopes to reduce the inescapable inefficiency of heating empty spaces and non-human objects, a generally overlooked problem when it comes to “greening” spaces.
Coating clothing in silver might sound like an uncomfortable and expensive proposition, but the nanowire only requires about one gram of silver per garment, an amount of the precious metal that costs about 50 cents. The nanowire’s porous structure would also allow these clothing items to “breathe,” preventing the discomfort of other heavy materials. The small amount of silver in the fabric would make nano gear weigh only slightly more than regular attire.
Despite the novel approach, and theoretically wide number of applications for a technology like this, it seems like there are still a number of issues that the silver nanowire solution fails to address. For example, if we stopped heating structures, how would we keep pipes from freezing? In very cold climates, would users have wear nanowire hoods or cowls to stay warm? How would we keep pets from getting cold? These clothes would probably work best in a very specific temperature range, or in combination with structural insulation and traditional heating. But it’s still interesting to contemplate a future of individual thermal solutions, a future that may, or may not necessitate the creation of an adorably high-tech silver nanowire pet sweater industry.