U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Building Technologies Office
Bio-Based Phase Change Materials Research Project
The Department of Energy is currently conducting research into the development of low cost, bio-based phase change materials for building envelopes. Because insulation keeps hot air out inside buildings during the summer and outside during the winter, developing low cost materials can both drive down the cost of insulation and reduce energy costs.
This project seeks to develop a low cost manufacturing process for the production of phase change materials (PCMs), and to subsequently evaluate the PCM pellets produced to provide improved insulation in buildings.
Research is being undertaken between the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Syntroleum Corproration.
The goal of this project is to reduce the cost of producing PCMs, with lower prices helping PCMs become cost-effective in the overall market. To reach this goal, the partnership expects to demonstrate a low cost PCM production route using direct hydrogenation and deoxygenation of fats, oils, and greases to create an octadecane-rich paraffin and standard plastic pelletizing equipment to encapsulate the paraffin.
Future work could develop PCM pellets with a higher melt point (24 – 25°C, as opposed to the current melt point of 21 – 22°C) and estimate the annual energy savings and reduction in peak power demand these PCM pellets could generate in the southern United States.
Benefits and Impacts
Proper insulation can save homeowners money on both heating and cooling, which account for 50 – 70% of home energy use. By reducing peak heat fluxes, PCMs lower the amount of energy required to regulate building temperatures and thus lower the energy costs. Cheaper production methods for PCMs, will help make PCMs more affordable for industry and consumers and enable market penetration. Peak heat flux reduction is 20 – 40% with daily phase change.