Clothing that cools the wearer could save on air conditioning bills. A low-cost, plastic-based textile developed by Stanford engineers could become commonplace in hot climates.
This material allows the body to discharge heat in two ways that would make the wearer feel nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than if they wore cotton clothing. Firstly by letting perspiration evaporate through the material and by allowing heat that the body emits as infrared radiation to pass through the plastic textile.
Nanotechnology, photonics and chemistry were combined to enable thermal radiation, air and water vapor to pass through the polyethylene.
A variant of polyethylene commonly used in battery making was found to have a specific nanostructure that is opaque to visible light yet transparent to infrared radiation so allowing body heat to escape. This polyethylene was modified by treating it with benign chemicals to enable water vapor molecules to evaporate through nanopores in the plastic allowing the plastic to breathe like a natural fiber.
A three-ply version was created from two sheets of treated polyethylene separated by a cotton mesh for strength and thickness making the material more like traditional clothing fabric.