Technological Wonders That Help Us Weather Sizzling Hot Spells

Technological Wonders That Help Us Weather Sizzling Hot Spells

A dive into how technology (and not splashing around in fountains) can conquer the heat.

Even if you’re nowhere near India or its vicinity, you might have caught wind of the protracted heat wave looming over the country through the grapevine. Sweeping across West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh like wildfire, the heat wave in India shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. With the mercury soaring to a sweltering 104°F (40°C) for several days, people in the melting regions have been feeling the burn as temperatures climb above the seasonal average.

In a recent publication in the PLOS Climate journal, researchers from the University of Cambridge shed light on the burning truth that climate change is fanning the flames of lethal heat waves scorching India. As the world braces for the punch of climate change and the comeback of El Niño—a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean—climate scientists sound the alarm that our planet could be in for a scorcher this year, with temperatures potentially hitting an all-time high. There’s a good chance that many of us will find ourselves caught in the grip of heat waves at some point.

In the face of doom and gloom, all is not lost, as technology is here to steer us clear of the life-threatening chaos.

What’s the optimal temperature for human inhabitation?

Before anything else, let’s work out why stifling temperatures leave most of us feeling under the weather. Just as a refresher, adults’ average body temperature sits at 98.6°F (37°C), which is slightly higher than children’s (hovering around 97.52°F or 36.4°C). Surprisingly, when we’re in an environment that matches our body temperature, we can’t help but break a sweat because our bodies are simultaneously generating heat through breathing, heart pumping and other metabolic activities.

These mechanisms hit their stride when the ambient temperature sets at around 70°F (21°C), as our internal mechanisms keep the body at its average temperature. But when the surrounding temperature soars and reaches 98.6°F (37°C) or higher during heat waves, the said mechanisms and thermoregulation (losing heat through sweat evaporation on the skin) will get thrown off kilter, making us feel excruciatingly uncomfortable and often resulting in heat stroke.

Putting it briefly, we’re in our prime while basking in an environment of about 70°F (21°C). Regrettably, global warming is tossing us away from this ambient temperature.

So, how does technology go to bat for us?

An alternative to air conditioning—heat pumps

Imagine it’s midsummer, and you live in an apartment with air conditioning installed. After an hour-long commute on a bus that feels like a sauna on wheels, all you crave is to crank up the A.C. and chill out. Yet, as simple as it is to hit the “cool” button, not everyone can afford the luxury of frosty air on demand, thanks to the steep installation and electricity consumption costs. For instance, in the U.K., only a mere 2 percent or so residents have air conditioners at home, often held back by a tight budget. In other terms, air conditioning isn’t a breeze for many, and that’s where heat pumps enter the picture to save the day.

Heat pumps are a cleaner, more affordable alternative to air conditioners as they don’t run on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, and they could slash the electricity required for cooling in half. Given that heat pumps are two-way air conditioners (cooling and warming the house during summer and winter), select the correct mode to keep your indoor oasis from turning into a tropical nightmare.

Sustainable building materials—biocarbon concrete

No question about it, heat pumps aren’t the only game in town when it comes to regulating room temperature as we also have green walls, a vertical structure of vegetation attached to high-rising buildings’ façades. Structures with green walls installed are found to be more heat-proof since plants will absorb solar radiation and prevent indoor space from boiling.

That said, not every building can squeeze in green walls. Enter EcoLocked, a Berlin-based carbon-negative startup. The company steps up to the plate and brings forth a biochar-based concrete that promises to bring buildings that require less artificial cooling to life.

To achieve this goal, EcoLocked collects everyday waste products, like wood, food and agricultural residues, all bursting with carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere during decomposition, and put them through a process called pyrolysis. During this process, the products transform into biochar a form of charcoal produced from plant matter that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at high temperatures. Mixed with other necessary additives, biocarbon is transformed into “admixtures” required for manufacturing carbon-negative concrete.

Concrete made with the admixtures is said to have enhanced thermal insulation and can reduce thermal conductivity (the intrinsic ability of a material to transfer or conduct heat) by up to 30% to 40%. In that case, even without air conditioning or heat pumps, a building will stay habitable and comfortable during heat waves, all thanks to the sustainable building material.

Adaptive textile—clothes that change the thickness

While you might dread the thought, you don’t get any offs when a heat wave hits. As much as you miss your air con, odds are you must go to work as usual and brave the sweltering sun before you can breathe in cold air again. That being so, you need something that can travel around with you, such as high-tech clothes that’ll have you breezing through the heat.

Inventors from Otherlab, an independent research and design lab, put forward a passive thermo-adaptive fabric idea. This material changes its thickness in response to surrounding temperatures passively, thanks to dissimilar thermally reactive materials.

Temperature-sensitive materials, such as polymer fiber, will change their structure and length as they react to heat. So, garments produced from this material can cool wearers down during those blistering summer days by slimming down their profile.

Brent Ridley, the mastermind behind the project, revealed in an interview seven years ago that the team had initiated the testing and manufacturing process of the material. Although it hasn’t hit the shelves yet, apparel weaved with this material is set to establish itself as a must-have essential that makes heat waves less unbearable.

While the cutting-edge solutions above have certainly been a breath of fresh air in helping us ride out the searing heat waves, technology isn’t the be-all and end-all in battling extreme weather. Instead, it’s our efforts that can tip the scales and pump the brakes on climate change.

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Header image courtesy of Freepik

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