Researchers at the University of Central Florida have created a new energy-saving paint that could revolutionize the paint industry. The paint repels heat and can be created in any color. It is also the lightest paint ever created. Rather than being made from pigment, color is created structurally through the arrangement of nanoparticles. Dubbed ‘plasmonic paint,’ it takes just 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds) to cover a Boeing 747, while you would need 454 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of conventional commercial paint to do the same. This characteristic could significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases required for flight.
How It Works
The nanoparticles of two colorless materials – aluminum and aluminum oxide – are used to create the structural color of plasmonic paint. By arranging them in different ways on top of an oxide-coated aluminum mirror, the researchers can control how light is scattered, reflected, or absorbed. This process is similar to the one responsible for the vibrant colors of butterfly wings. The structural color is what makes the paint lightweight – at just 150 nanometers thick, the paint reaches full coloration, making it the lightest paint on record. The team created the structural paint using an electron beam evaporator, which heats a substance at a highly controlled rate. This controlled evaporation allows small clusters of aluminum nanoparticles to self-assemble. By tweaking the pressure and temperature of the electron beam evaporator, the team can create structures that reflect different colors.
Benefits of Plasmonic Paint
One of the key advantages of plasmonic paint is its ability to keep structures cooler by reflecting the entire infrared spectrum. Surfaces beneath the paint stay 13 to 16 degrees Celsius (25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than they would if covered with regular commercial paint. Nanoscientist Debashis Chanda, who led the research team, says, “Over 10 percent of total electricity in the US goes toward air conditioner usage. The temperature difference plasmonic paint promises would lead to significant energy savings. Using less electricity for cooling would also cut down carbon dioxide emissions, lessening global warming.”
Additionally, plasmonic paint does not require new molecules for every color present, as pigment-based paints do. Instead, the nanoparticles of two colorless materials are used to create structural color. This process ensures high reproducibility over broad areas in a single step, lowering the cost of production and enabling large-scale fabrication. Furthermore, the paint should last for centuries because structural color does not fade like pigment-based colors.
However, the paint is still in the laboratory phase, and it will take time and further research to produce it en masse. “At this moment, unless we go through the scale-up process, it is still expensive to produce at an academic lab,” says Chanda.
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