Energy-saving Paint Inspired by Butterflies Needs 0.3% Paint by Weight
University of Central Florida researcher Debashis Chanda, a professor in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, has drawn inspiration from butterflies to create the first environmentally friendly, large-scale and multicolor alternative to pigment-based colorants, which can contribute to energy-saving efforts and help reduce global warming.
Instead of pigment-based colored paint, which requires artificially synthesized molecules, a UCF researcher has developed an alternative way to produce colored paint that is more natural, environmentally friendly and light weight.
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Plasmonic paint is also extremely lightweight, the researcher says. This is due to the paint’s large area-to-thickness ratio, with full coloration achieved at a paint thickness of only 150 nanometers, making it the lightest paint in the world, Chanda says.
The paint is so lightweight that only about 3 pounds of plasmonic paint could cover a Boeing 747, which normally requires more than 1,000 pounds of conventional paint
Based on such bio-inspirations, Chanda’s research group innovated a plasmonic paint, which utilizes nanoscale structural arrangement of colorless materials — aluminum and aluminum oxide — instead of pigments to create colors.
Considerations About Future Variants on This Technology
Could similar paints be developed with iron, magnesium, zinc, titanium, tungsten, nickel, tin, other metallic elements?
What about alloys? Could steels and stainless steels be used? Could aluminum alloys be used?
Could non-metals such as silicon be used?
Could photo-catalytically active materials with air-purifying properties be used?
There have been other nanotechnology-based paints and coatings but they were usually based on nano-particles in suspensions.
Pigments versus Structural Color
Pigment colorants control light absorption based on the electronic property of the pigment material and hence every color needs a new molecule, structural colorants control the way light is reflected, scattered or absorbed based purely on the geometrical arrangement of nanostructures.
Such structural colors are environmentally friendly as they only use metals and oxides, unlike present pigment-based colors that use artificially synthesized molecules.
The researchers have combined their structural color flakes with a commercial binder to form long-lasting paints of all colors.
Chanda says the next steps of the project include further exploration of the paint’s energy-saving aspects to improve its viability as commercial paint.
“The conventional pigment paint is made in big facilities where they can make hundreds of gallons of paint,” he says. “At this moment, unless we go through the scale-up process, it is still expensive to produce at an academic lab.”
“We need to bring something different like, non-toxicity, cooling effect, ultralight weight, to the table that other conventional paints can’t.” Chanda says.
Scientific Advances – Ultralight plasmonic structural color paint
All present commercial colors are based on pigments. While such traditional pigment-based colorants offer a commercial platform for large-volume and angle insensitiveness, they are limited by their instability in atmosphere, color fading, and severe environmental toxicity. Commercial exploitation of artificial structural coloration has fallen short due to the lack of design ideas and impractical nanofabrication techniques. Here, we present a self-assembled subwavelength plasmonic cavity that overcomes these challenges while offering a tailorable platform for rendering angle and polarization-independent vivid structural colors. Fabricated through large-scale techniques, we produce stand-alone paints ready to be used on any substrate. The platform offers full coloration with a single layer of pigment, surface density of 0.4 g/m2, making it the lightest paint in the world.
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