Scientists have developed a covering for buildings that keeps them cool by reflecting the sun's rays, potentially saving huge amounts of energy for European households.
At the same time, EU researchers are developing smart technology that helps save energy in targeted ways, such as more efficient washer dryers and a device that can chill a drink in under a minute.
Households currently consume over a quarter of Europe’s energy, and this is in large part due to the energy required for the heating and cooling of homes. A typical small house in the EU consumes 30 000 to 40 000 kilowatts of energy per year for heating and air conditioning. While the energy-intensive appliances found within many homes also have an impact.
One of the goals set out by the EU in 2007 is to cut energy consumption and reach a 20 % reduction in energy use by 2020.
The Cool-Coverings project has developed an innovative sun-reflective technology that it has integrated into three products – roofing material, paint, and tiles for facades – reducing heat with minor investment.
A material is cool when it can reflect the sun’s rays and emit the absorbed energy back into the atmosphere, and the Cool-Coverings technology works by using nano and pigment technology to improve the way non-visible light is reflected. The researchers targeted the near-infrared region that contains 30 % to 45 % of the heat.
They set up the Algete Demo Park in Madrid, an experimental platform with several middle-scale buildings. ‘Each one has a thermal behaviour close to real concrete residential houses. We compared in real time the new materials with standard materials in each house, and after several months found that overall savings on energy bills over one year varied from 4 % to 7.5 %,’ said Antonio De Ferrari from D’Appolonia S.p.A. in Italy, one of the partners of the project.
‘The impact on European energy can be estimated by multiplying these savings by the number of buildings that might be renovated using the product, potentially between 10 000 and 20 000 houses a year, mainly in the south of Europe and Turkey,’ he said.
The project was completed in June 2013 and the three products are almost ready for market with the paint and roofing material already available in commercial catalogues.
In hot weather, it’s not just the building that needs cooling, but also food and drinks. The EU-funded Rapidcool project has worked out how to cool drinks in seconds.
‘The impact on European energy can be estimated by multiplying these savings by the number of buildings that might be renovated using the product, potentially between 10 000 and 20 000 houses a year.’
Antonio De Ferrari, Cool-Coverings
The technology works by turning the drink at a specific speed to create a special type of vortex which does not make the drink fizz when it is opened afterwards, and then rapidly cooling the outside of the can. The vortex means that the liquid cools evenly rather than becoming a frozen slush on the outside.
‘Our technology is based on the principle of mixing water,’ said Project Coordinator Iztok Vodicar, from Vending Marketing, a company based in Slovenia. ‘The vortex created inside and outside the can gets the heat out of the drink quicker.’
The system calculates the weight of the drink so it can be cooled in the fastest time possible.
‘Rapidcool saves on unnecessary refrigeration, drinks are stored at ambient temperature and cooled on demand,’ said Vodicar.
The Rapidcool consortium is now working on developing different applications of the technology, including a baby flask for cooling warmed milk down to 37 degrees Celsius.
Washing and drying clothes is another significant expenditure of energy in the home. That’s made worse by the fact that more people than ever are living in small flats, meaning that more of them buy inefficient washer dryers over traditional systems with a separate dryer.
The problem with washer dryers is that they can’t dry as much as they wash, meaning that the washing has to be dried in two loads, using as much as 50 % more energy than a separate system.
That’s why the EU-funded LoWash project is developing a washer dryer that can dry a complete load in one go, saving money.
A first prototype is planned for February 2014, and several small parts are already being tested.
The LoWash project said that sales of the finished product could provide a EUR 34 million market opportunity to the consortium, and in the process it could save 16 gigawatt hours of electricity over five years.
Another EU-funded project, DIGESPO, aims to improve energy-efficiency in buildings by using innovative solar systems that will allow people to generate their own heat and electricity. Find out more in this video.
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