Scientist Aaswatch Raman is looking for a way to make air conditioners more efficient, and mitigate the greenhouse gas burden these systems are currently creating for our planet. Raman says that air conditioning systems account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and use 17% of global electricity. Plus, he says that by 2050, our energy used for cooling will grow sixfold as global temperatures rise even higher.

Raman’s startup, SkyCool, and his lab at the University of Pennsylvania, though, are testing a new process that could improve the efficiency of cooling systems by as much as 20%, and as a result, reduce the amount of emissions they produce, reports Fast Company writer Eillie Anzilotti.

The technology they’re using is based on infrared radiation, the process by which objects give off heat. Much of that heat, which is measured in wavelength micrometers, is then trapped by our atmosphere. But exceptionally high radiation wavelengths–between eight and 13 micrometers–slip through the atmosphere, and into the cold expanse of space. Essentially, surfaces in that 8- to 13-micrometer range tend to lose heat faster than they can replenish it–either via the warmth of the sun or heat leaving other objects nearby.

This phenomenon is often called “night sky cooling,” because the warmth of the sun generally slows it, or prevents it from happening. But Raman and his team developed a proprietary material to convert the infrared light leaving a surface into the wavelength range that would cast its heat into space, and cool the object from which it flows. The material also deflects the sun’s rays to speed up cooling.

Through modeling, Raman and his team have shown that this material, integrated into large-scale cooling systems, would cut the electricity demands of cooling by over 20%–if the systems themselves aren’t overheating, they can essentially operate more effectively. SkyCool will be running a commercial pilot of its material integrated with a cooling system in the next year or two.

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