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Polymer Mechanics Laboratory

Research > Polymer materials for solar applications

Thermotropic materials in a solar collector

This project addresses the need for developing solar thermal systems for residential heating and hot water that are low cost and compatible with all US climates. In particular, the research focuses on materials development to enable design of glazed polymeric collectors. Our focus on efficient, cost-effective polymeric collectors is driven by both the promise of major reductions in installed cost (at least 50%) with a shift from copper and glass components to integrated systems manufactured using mass production techniques, and the limitations of polymer collectors on the market today to mild climates. The major impediment facing development of glazed polymer collectors is the lack of an adequate approach to protect the polymeric absorber from overheating. To address this impediment, we are proposing to develop thermotropic materials for which the index of refraction changes as a function of temperature. Overheat protection is provided when the material changes from clear below the switching temperature to opaque above the switching temperature.

Fig. 1: Thermotropic materials in a solar collector