Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have discovered a new type of blue pigment that could help boost the energy efficiency of buildings. Discovered unexpectedly three years ago, the "cool blue" pigment has unusually high infrared heat reflectivity which it is hoped can be channeled into commercial products in the near future.

Using roofing materials that reflect heat well has long been recognized as an important aspect of passive solar design. While lighter pigments are generally better when it comes to reflecting heat in the infrared spectrum, the new "cool blue" punches above its weight despite its deeper tone.

“This pigment has infrared heat reflectivity of about 40 percent, which is significantly higher than most blue pigments now being used,” said Mas Subramanian, an OSU professor of chemistry who discovered the compound.

The chance discovery occurred during unrelated research into the electrical properties of manganese compounds. When heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit the compounds changed to a "beautiful blue" - researchers later determined that this was due to what's described as the “trigonal bipyramidal” crystalline structure of some of these compounds. This became the starting point for the development of the pigment, which also has the advantage of being durable and environmentally-benign.

The compound, which has now received patent approval, is also being investigated for various commercial application according to OSU and research into its molecular structure and reflective properties is ongoing.

“We’re seeking licensing partners for this invention right now,” said Mary Phillips, associate director of the Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development at OSU. “We believe it can contribute to new energy efficiency solutions around the world.”