A Newly-Invented White Paint Might Make Air Conditioning Obsolete

A paint in a shade that’s as white as white gets, and it’s also good for the environment? It’s a novel idea that recently came to life in a lab at Purdue University. The world’s whitest paint—as it’s now famously known—has earned a spot in the latest edition of the Guinness World Records book for this never-achieved status, according to a recent report in USA Today.

A professor of mechanical engineering, Xiulin Ruan, invented the paint with his graduate students, and it’s considered a breakthrough in sustainability because it has the potential to significantly reduce our reliance on air conditioning. In fact, the paint may even eliminate the need for air conditioning altogether.

Ruan’s creation has two key components that make it so white. The first is different sizes of a particle called barium sulphate, which is common in paints, varnishes, and cosmetics. It also has a high concentration of these particles that reflect 98.1% of sunlight while emitting infrared heat. Typical paints, in comparison, are between 80 and 90% reflective of sunlight.

For those of us who aren’t science geeks, this basically means, according to a release from Purdue University, that “Because the paint absorbs less heat than it emits, a surface coated with this paint is cooled below the surrounding temperature without consuming power.”

Your standard white paint can’t make surfaces cooler than their surroundings because it gets warmer rather than cooler. Using the new paint to cover a 1,000-square-foot roof, according to a paper published by Purdue researchers, could mean a cooling power of 10 kilowatts. Ruan says this number is more powerful than the air conditioners most houses use.

Ruan and his students weren’t interested in inventing a white paint when they started on their endeavor around seven years ago. Their main purpose was to conserve energy and mitigate climate change, Ruan said in a statement. They chose ten materials from a pool of 100 and tested 50 different formulations for each one on their final list.

Its environmental benefits aside, Ruan’s paint has aesthetic value when it comes to decorating your home, says Brittany Marom, an interior designer in New York City with an eponymous firm. “It’s a super chic shade with a modern vibe,” she says. “It’s definitely going to make your space feel larger and almost reflects light.” Both the chemical properties of the paint and it shade may have a cooling effect, Marom says. “The color is very light and bright,” she says. “There’s a beach-y quality to it.”

Ruan’s paint is coming at a critical time for the planet, says Beth McGroarty, the research director for the Global Wellness Institute. “We are in the middle of a major climate crisis that’s getting worse and worse, and our use of air conditioning is skyrocketing, which is causing temperatures to rise,” she says. “Finding sustainable solutions to cool our built environments is one of the most important ways we can slow down the damage to the environment.”

McGroarty says that a paint such as Ruan’s is an innovative, yet simple and accessible option. “I think it’s one of the many ways going forward that we’re going to see how design tools can actually benefit the climate,” she says.

The mission to invent a cooling paint that could alleviate the need for air conditioners has a history that dates back to the 1970s. Now it’s finally here: Ruan and his team have partnered with a company that will help produce it and offer it for sale.

Soon you’ll have the chance to try the white paint for yourself and judge firsthand whether what it claims to do is in fact true.

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