Environment

Thermeleon roof tiles make saving energy as clear as black and white

Thermeleon roof tiles make sav...
The 'Thermeleon' roof tile changes from white to black depending on its temperature
The 'Thermeleon' roof tile changes from white to black depending on its temperature
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The Thermeleon team after winning the MIT MADMEC design competition: (Front from left): Lin Jia, Yin Fan, Gagan Saini, and Dr Nicholas Orf (Back from left): Dr Joseph Walish and Dr Rafal Mickiewicz
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The Thermeleon team after winning the MIT MADMEC design competition: (Front from left): Lin Jia, Yin Fan, Gagan Saini, and Dr Nicholas Orf (Back from left): Dr Joseph Walish and Dr Rafal Mickiewicz
Dr Nick Orf demonstrates a prototype Thermeleon roof tile, using a heat gun to warm part of it. The heated area turns from black to white (photo: - Patrick Gillooly)
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Dr Nick Orf demonstrates a prototype Thermeleon roof tile, using a heat gun to warm part of it. The heated area turns from black to white (photo: - Patrick Gillooly)
Dr Nick Orf demonstrates a prototype Thermeleon roof tile, using a heat gun to warm part of it. The heated area turns from black to white (photo: - Patrick Gillooly)
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Dr Nick Orf demonstrates a prototype Thermeleon roof tile, using a heat gun to warm part of it. The heated area turns from black to white (photo: - Patrick Gillooly)
The 'Thermeleon' roof tile changes from white to black depending on its temperature
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The 'Thermeleon' roof tile changes from white to black depending on its temperature
View gallery - 4 images

Prototype roof tiles that turn white to reflect heat when they get hot seem like a pretty cool idea, as do tiles that turn black to absorb heat when it’s cold. That’s why a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduates has won the third annual MIT MADMEC (Making and Designing Materials Engineering Contest) by demonstrating their thermally-activated, color-changing, roofing material called “Thermeleon” (as in chameleon).

Using phase-change polymer gel-filled tiles, the team is able to control the light energy transmission properties of the roofing material, meaning that on a hot day the roofing material turns white to reflect heat, but on a cold day the material becomes transparent and absorbs heat back into the home.

Many modern homes with black roofing shingles absorb energy from the summer sun leading to higher cooling bills and wasting much of that solar energy. While this heat absorption factor may be offset in the winter with the home taking advantage of the sun's energy reducing heating bills (often only slightly) the problem remains what to do about the intense summer sun that turns into interior heat.

White roofs are an obvious solution – but permanent white roofs, such as factory-painted materials, repel much of the advantage of winter heat absorption. While this solves the problem of summer heat it doesn’t provide any advantage in winter. Having a tile that automatically changes color depending on the temperature is a great solution all year round.

While the team says most of its testing has been conducted on a gel that transitions at around room temperature, it is able to select from a wide variety of transition temperatures ranging from approximately 0-100°C (32-212°F) and beyond.

“When the polymer phase separates from the gel, the solution becomes a mixture of polymer and solvent and because the polymer and solvent have different refractive indices the mixture becomes strongly scattering (white colored). When the mixture cools below the transition temperature, the polymer re-dissolves in the liquid and the solution is clear (exposing the black backing) and colorless,” says the team on its website.

Using commodity materials to keep the price down, the team has experimented with different products including a rigid tile with a glass front and plastic back, a flexible tile with plastic front and back, and a paint-based system for existing black roof tiles or similar materials.

“We are currently developing our system and are looking forward to doing some long-term environmental testing (heat/UV/humidity) to determine the anticipated lifespan of our design,” says the Thermeleon creators.

Via MIT news

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4 comments
Rex Alfie Lee
If it was storing electricity or deflecting it to be used elsewhere as well then it may deserve a mention. It sounds good but without the sunlight being used for something other than heat reflection or absorption it is hard to get excited.
MichaelP2
Santafe clay roof tiles are a great option. Energy Star products to save on energy bills, great color variety and 50 year warranty. I installed Frost color (glazed white tile) and is virtually maintenance free!
Dr.A.Jagadeesh
Sophisticate technology but it offers promise for Adoption to regulate temperature.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
Facebook User
Great product! To Alfie: Placing transparent solar cells like the ones coming out from Konarka over the Thermeleon tiles solves this issue, doesn\'t it?