Researchers create world's first energy-saving paint—inspired by butterflies

Debashis Chanda, a professor at the University of Central Florida's NanoScience Technology Center, was inspired by butterflies to develop the first environmentally sound, substantial, and multicolored replacement for pigment-based colorants, which can aid in energy-saving efforts and counteract global warming.

The discovery was today highlighted in a piece in Science Advances.

The variety of colors and hues in the natural world are astounding, according to Chanda, ranging from aquatic life like fish and cephalopods to vibrant flora, birds, and butterflies. "In a number of exceptionally colorful species, structural color acts as the main source of color, producing all hues through the geometrical organization of usually two colorless materials. With synthetic pigment, however, fresh molecules are required for each hue that is visible."

Chanda's study team invented a plasmonic paint based on such bio-inspirations that uses the nanoscale structural organization of colorless materials—aluminum and aluminum oxide—instead of pigments to produce hues.

In contrast to pigment colorants, which control light absorption based solely on the geometrical organization of nanostructures, structural colorants control how light is deflected, dispersed, or absorbed based solely on the electronic characteristic of the pigment substance.

As opposed to the current pigment-based colors, which use chemically manufactured molecules, such structural colors only use metals and oxides, making them ecologically sustainable.

To create long-lasting paints in all hues, the experts have merged their structural color particles with a commercial binder.

According to Chanda, pigment loses its capacity to capture light, which causes normal color to diminish. "We are not constrained by that occurrence here. When we apply structural pigment to something, it should endure for millennia."

The underneath surface stays 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it would if it were painted with regular commercial paint because plasmonic paint reflects the complete infrared spectrum and thus absorbs less heat, the researcher claims.

According to Chanda, air conditioning uses up over 10% of all energy in the United States. "Plasmonic paint's guarantee of a temperature difference would result in substantial energy savings. Additionally, reducing the amount of energy used for cooling would reduce carbon dioxide pollution, slowing global warming."

The expert notes that plasmonic paint is also incredibly lightweight.

This is a result of the paint's high area-to-thickness ratio, which makes it the world's lightest paint because complete coloration can be obtained at a thickness of just 150 nanometers, according to Chanda.

According to him, the paint is so light that a Boeing 747, which typically needs more than 1,000 pounds of conventional paint, could be painted using only about 3 pounds of plasmonic paint.

Chanda claims that the brightness of insects is what first piqued his interest in structural color.

I always wished to construct a butterfly when I was a child, he claims. "I am interested in color."

Potential investigation

The project's next stages, according to Chanda, include a deeper investigation of the paint's energy-saving features to increase its viability as a business paint.

He claims that large factories with the capacity to produce hundreds of barrels of paint are used to produce standard pigment paint. "At the present, it is still costly to make at an academic lab unless we go through the scale-up procedure."

We must offer something unique that other traditional coatings cannot, according to Chanda, such as non-toxicity, cooling impact, and ultralight weight.