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Healing Warmth from Nanowire Fabric

Researchers have developed new wearable nanotechnology designed to keep you from having to raise your thermostat above 13 C.

Stanford University’s Yi Cui says that he and his team have developed the first wearable metallic insulation system that doesn’t compromise insulation for comfort. The nanowire-embedded cloth prevents heat from transferring out of your body, keeping you nice and toasty.

Mr. Cui said a large portion of energy used by furnaces and personal heaters is wasted on heating empty space, and his metallic nanowire-embedded cloth solves that problem person by person.

“Because of its high insulation and light weight, people can lower the heater temperature without feeling cold,” Mr. Cui said.

According to a study from the materials science and engineering professor and his team of researchers, nanowire coating for clothing can cut energy usage by 41% per person.

The team’s research was done on cloth dipped in silver that forms nanowires in the cloth’s fibers. The cloth is cheap to produce, using only a small amount of sliver. Once the nanowire is applied, the cloth doesn’t sacrifice its breathability or durability, and doesn’t noticeably gain any weight, the study says.

Mr. Cui and his team said the breathable and durable cloth can save 1,000 kilowatt hours per person every year. According to the Ontario Ministry of Energy, a typical family of four people uses, on average, 800 kilowatt hours per month.

But would nanowire cloth be able to handle the extreme dip in temperature much of Canada has been experiencing lately? Well, if you’re wearing a shirt that uses nanowire you won’t be able to walk around without a coat during Canada’s cold winters, said Mr. Cui, adding that Toronto during this arctic air mass “is a little bit too cold, especially if there is wind.”

“In our analysis, our nanowire cloth works fine at 13 C,” Mr. Cui said. He adds that while nanowire can still be used underneath clothing to protect you from the cold outdoors, its real potential is saving energy costs indoors.

Reducing the amount of bulky clothing needed to enjoy Canada’s winters is one of the potential positives of nanowire cloth, according to Matthew Thomson, a marketing professor at Western’s Ivey.

“This type of technological cloth could revolutionize cold-weather activity and really help to make people with bad circulation much more comfortable everywhere they go.”

But energy-savings may not be enough for consumers to get behind the product indoors, Mr. Thomson cautioned.

“I worry it’s simply asking for people to change their behaviour too much. Sure, it might save on home heating, but there are a lot of things around the home that depend on room temperature.”

Mr. Thomson adds that houseplants, fruit and even red wines depend on a comfortable temperature to not die or spoil.

Also, until nanowire clothes are made for pets, people may have unhappy animals on their hands, Mr. Thomson said.

Mr. Cui said the technology can be available for commercial use in as early as five years, but says durability and comfort need to be tested further.

National Post

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