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Nature inspires the world’s first energy-saving paint

Debashis Chanda, a researcher with the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center, recently created an environmentally friendly way to produce paints that could aid in the fight against climate change. He used nature as an inspiration. 

“The range of colors and hues in the natural world are astonishing – from colorful flowers, birds and butterflies to underwater creatures like fish and cephalopods,” said Chanda. 

The research team created a plasmonic paint using two non-pigmented materials: aluminum and aluminum oxide. Instead of relying on light absorption, Chanda’s paint relies on the structural arrangements of these materials to create color.  

“Structural color serves as the primary color-generating mechanism in several extremely vivid species where geometrical arrangement of typically two colorless materials produces all colors. On the other hand, with manmade pigment, new molecules are needed for every color present,” explained Chanda.

The paint is considered more environmentally friendly because, unlike pigment-based paint, it does not require artificially synthesized molecules.

Moreover, plasmonic paint is lighter and longer lasting, which could lead to less consumer consumption. For example, just three pounds of paint could cover an entire Boeing 747.

“Normal color fades because pigment loses its ability to absorb photons,” said Chanda. “Here, we’re not limited by that phenomenon. Once we paint something with structural color, it should stay for centuries.”

Also, plasmonic paint creates more insulation than pigmented paints by reflecting heat. The research team determined that their paint can keep a structure 25 to 30 degrees cooler than pigmented paints.

“Over 10% of total electricity in the U.S. 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.”

Future research will focus on making the paint more accessible in the hopes that more people will embrace this eco-friendly alternative.

“The conventional pigment paint is made in big facilities where they can make hundreds of gallons of paint,” said Chanda. “At this moment, unless we go through the scale-up process, it is still expensive to produce at an academic lab.”

“We need to bring something different like, non-toxicity, cooling effect, ultralight weight, to the table that other conventional paints can’t.”

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

By Erin Moody, Staff Writer

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