Scientists create eco-friendly paint that mimics nature: NPR

NPR’s Scott Detrow talks to Debashis Chanda about his groundbreaking structural paint research, featured in WIRED magazine.


Color Me Hope, but we’ve heard of a new type of paint that has the potential to reduce airline fuel consumption and make our homes and communities cooler. How? Well, some of nature’s brightest and most beautiful colors can only be reproduced by using heavy metals and chemicals. And these paints absorb infrared radiation, which makes objects covered with them much warmer. But Debashis Chanda, a nanoscience researcher at the University of Central Florida, has created a way to mimic the way nature reflects color without absorbing heat. This is the same way a rainbow is created after rain. Chanda’s research examines why structural colors, as they are called, may be the future of paint, and how changing the way light is reflected from surfaces could help cool a rapidly warming environment.

DEBASHIS CHANDA: All colors actually come from some kind of pigments that absorb light. Butterflies, birds and lots of fish, octopuses, they can actually create color based on structure. In all artificial colors we use a lot of artificially synthesized organic molecules, a lot of metal. Now think about your deep blue, cobalt needs. And a deep red needs cadmium. None of these materials are friendly. They are poisonous. We pollute our nature and all our habitat by using this type of paint. One of the main motivations was therefore to create a color based on a non-toxic material.

DETROW: It’s not just cleaner. Structural paint is also lighter. A raisin’s worth of structural paint is enough to cover the front and back of a door.

CHANDA: If you could reduce the weight of the paint that coats the planes, then we’re actually making them more fuel efficient and reducing the cost significantly.

DETROW: Lighter, cooler – the applications seem endless. The paint could reduce the surface temperature of cars and even buildings by up to 30 degrees.

CHANDA: This cooling effect is extremely important for our energy savings, reducing our carbon footprint and fighting global warming. So that gives another passive tool that you can actually start coating surfaces with that type of paint that satisfies our need for color, but also keeps the surface looking cooler.

DETROW: Structural painting is still in its infancy and is mainly used in the laboratory. Its potential is not yet exploited.

CHANDA: Paint is one of the biggest things we consume because everything we look around has to be painted – everything. So that means we need such a large volume of paint. Our short and long term goal will be to make it scalable at a reasonably lower cost.

DETROW: It was Debashis Chanda, a nanoscientist at the University of Central Florida.

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