Engineers in Japan Weave Fabrics That Are Capable Of Heating Or Cooling People

The Shinshu University in Japan is experimenting with a fabric that can ward off the heat and keep you warm during extreme temperatures.

The Shinshu University of Japan has woven a fabric that can be heated or cooled depending on the temperature outside. In order to store and release large amounts of heat, the fabric is woven from ultrafine nano-threads containing a phase-change material (PCM).

Using this fabric as a thermal management system can help people keep a comfortable temperature at all times. Besides being used as an external packing component, Hideaki Morikawa said that it can also help regulate the temperatures of electronics and batteries.

Many industries require workers to switch between vastly different temperatures as part of their work, such as cold storage, baking, and many others. As a solution, cold storage workers would have to constantly change clothes, which would be extremely inconvenient. In addition to making workers uncomfortable, such temperature shifts can also result in illnesses. If they had to wear sweaters every time they entered and exited a freezer, it would be extremely inconvenient.

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It’s here that PCMs come in. Because they are able to absorb and release heat, they can absorb heat in hot conditions and release it in cool conditions, and vice versa. However, these materials are also problematic in their own right. When you step outside in the heat, a t-shirt would melt, so it would not be very practical.

Several approaches have been proposed to address this issue by including these PCMs in small microcapsules. However, Morikawa believes this approach is not flexible enough to be useful for realistic wearable applications.

Since this was the case, Morikawa and his team switched to a different technique called coaxial electrospinning. The researchers spun a nanofiber encapsulated in a PCM using electrospinning, a method for producing fibers with diameters in the nanometer range. But they didn’t stop there.

This PCM-encapsulated material was then combined with two other technologies: a photoresponsive coating and an electrothermal conductive coating. In combination with the photoresponsive material’s ability to absorb solar heat, the electrothermal coating converts it into electricity, expanding the range of environments in which it can be used.

According to Morikawa, “large-scale production of this special fabric may not be possible until a long time from now.” As one example, the researchers tested various fabric configurations in temperatures ranging from zero to 80 degrees Celsius, but did not examine how the material would deteriorate over time.

It is also difficult to apply coaxial electrospinning outside of laboratory settings because it has “strict requirements for spinning,” according to Morikawa. Furthermore, the researchers will have to find a cheaper alternative to the expensive conductive polymer used in the fabric in the future.

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