Maze-like material keeps buildings cool

Nano-sculpted materials could be key to improving the efficiency of buildings, if a company called Industrial Nanotech has its way. A few weeks ago we saw the mysterious “nano goop” used by solar start-up Sunrgi, but this time the goop is described in a tad more detail. Industrial Nanotech’s Nansulate is an insulating material that controls thermal conduction by passing it through a dense network of nanoparticles that stops heat transfer in its tracks. It’s a spray-on material, rather like paint, and can be applied to any surface as a finish.

First question: Does it work? Hard to say as I haven’t tried it, but a case study on the company’s web site describes a homeowner in Dallas who did. This fellow wanted to insulate his attic against the summertime heat: when outside temperatures climbed to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the attic could reach 143 F. A crew of workmen coated the attic with Nansulate and found that on a 103 F day, the temperature inside the attic fell to 101 F. That’s a dramatic drop in heat transfer into the attic, making it also easier to keep the rest of the house cool and comfortable.

Second question: Is it cheap enough? Industrial Nanotech isn’t sure. Even in these heady green times, energy savings and cost reductions must march in lockstep. “While cost savings will vary according to application, our residential customers regularly report experiencing energy savings between 20% to 40%,” reads a recent press release.

The company and its insulation products have been around for a few years, and they’ve yet to gain real momentum. In April, however, the European Union certified that the company’s coatings meet EU building codes, which are stringent. And a year earlier, the company received a significant boost when the Brazilian oil and gas giant Petrobras ordered 50,000 gallons of a Nansulate coating for a pipeline project. Perhaps with further orders from large industrial customers, the company will be able to achieve some economies of scale and improve its reach into residential and commercial building markets.

The nano part of Nansulate is an engineered particle called hydro-NM-oxide. As the company explains it, the internal architecture of the material is a complex, three-dimensional network of those tiny particles, forming a maze for heat to travel through. Another company, Nanopore, describes its thermal insulation material similarly, attributing the insulating properties to the miniscule size and unique arrangement of the material’s pores and the tiny connections between nanoparticles within the material.

Yet another nanotech approach to insulation uses aerogels, which can be made to be highly porous, consist of chains of nanoscale particles that create a tangle of fibers and can also perform well as barriers.