TAMU develops new phase change composite material that can be 3D printed

Phase change material (PCM for short) is characterized by its ability to switch between different material forms as the temperature changes. And one of its most promising application scenarios includes temperature regulation of buildings. For example, PCM material can melt into a liquid when it absorbs heat and provide cooling for the surrounding environment. When the ambient temperature is too low, the material will solidify again and release the previously stored heat.

Previously, researchers have used PCM materials to maintain the temperature of hot drinks in coffee cups, keep fabrics warm or cool according to the needs of the wearer, and prevent frosting in liquid coatings. However, such novel applications are generally inefficient and costly. Because they need a shell to contain the liquid phase change material, which means that PCM particles need to be embedded in the building material, it is difficult to see in reality, let alone large-scale promotion. Interestingly, the research team at Texas A&M University hopes to mix PCM directly into building materials. Specifically, they mixed paraffin wax as a phase change material with liquid resin as a support structure to create a soft paste-like material that can be molded as needed. Once the desired shape is reached, UV curing can be used to harden the resin. Eventually we saw a package that was strong enough to be used in construction and contained PCM.

After the outer shell is eliminated, the phase change material can be contained more densely (63% of the total material), thereby improving its ability to adjust the ambient temperature. More importantly, this material can now be mass-produced more easily. Its softness means that it can be used as a 3D Printing consumable and then made into any shape or size according to actual needs, and the cost is much lower than other PCM building materials. Research author Dr. Emily Pentzer said: “The ability to integrate phase change materials into building materials with the help of scalable non-methods creates opportunities for them to exert greater passive temperature regulation capabilities in new buildings and existing structures.” As a demonstration, the research team printed and solidified a small hollow house model. When the model is placed in the oven, the hollow interior is 40% cooler than the external environment. In addition, after 200 melting/solidification cycles, there is almost no leakage of phase change materials. The details of this research have been published in the recently published “Matter” journal, the original title is “Thermal energy regulation with 3D printed polymer-phase change material composites”.    

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