That Ultra-White Paint That Helps Cool Surfaces? Make Your Own!

It started with [KB9ENS] looking into paints or coatings for passive or radiative cooling, and in the process he decided to DIY his own. Not only is it perfectly accessible to a home experimenter, his initial results look like they have some promise, as well.

[KB9ENS] read about a type of ultra-white paint formulation that not only reflects heat, but is able to radiate it into space, cooling the painted surface to below ambient temperature. This is intriguing because while commercial paints can insulate and reflect heat, they cannot make a surface cooler than its surroundings.

Anecdotally speaking, this painted battery section of a solar recharger gets too hot to touch in full sunlight. But when painted over, it was merely warm.

What really got [KB9ENS] thinking was that at its core, the passively-cooling paint in the research is essentially a whole lot of different particle sizes of barium sulfate (BaSO₄) mixed into an acrylic binder. These two ingredients are remarkably accessible. A half-pound of BaSO₄ from a pottery supply shop was only a few dollars, and a plain acrylic base is easily obtained from almost any paint or art supplier.

[KB9ENS] decided to mix up a crude batch of BaSO₄ paint, apply it to some things, and see how well it compared to other paints and coatings. He wetted the BaSO₄ with some isopropyl alcohol to help it mix into the base, and made a few different concentrations. A 60% concentration by volume seemed to give the best overall results.

There’s no indication of whether any lower-than-ambient cooling is happening, but according to a non-contact thermometer even this homemade mixture does a better job of keeping sunlight from heating things up compared to similarly-applied commercial paints (although it fared only slightly better than titanium dioxide-based white paint in the initial test.)

[KB9ENS] also painted the battery section of a solar recharger with his homemade paint and noted that while under normal circumstances — that is to say, in full sunlight — that section becomes too hot to touch, with the paint coating it was merely warm.

Actual passive cooling can do more than just keep something less warm than it would be otherwise. We’ve seen it recently used to passively and continuously generate power thanks to its ability to create a constant temperature differential, day and night.

Integrating sphere test setup

Cannonball Mold Makes A Dandy Integrating Sphere For Laser Measurements

It’s an age-old riddle: if you have a perfect sphere with a perfectly reflective inner surface, will light bounce around inside it forever? The answer is pretty obvious when you think it through, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t put the principle to use, as we see with this homemade Ulbricht sphere for optical measurements.

If you’ve never heard of an Ulbricht sphere, don’t worry — it’s also known as an integrating sphere, and that makes its function a little more apparent. As [Les Wright] explains, an integrating sphere is an optical element with a hollow spherical cavity that’s coated with a diffusely reflective coating. There are two ports in the sphere, one for admitting light — usually from a laser — and one for light to exit. The light bounces around inside the sphere and becomes perfectly diffuse, and creates a uniform beam at the exit port.

[Les]’ need for an integrating sphere comes from the desire to measure the output of some of his lasers with his Raspberry Pi-based PySpectrometer. Rather than shell out for an expensive commercial integrating sphere, or turn one on a lathe, [Les] turned to an unlikely source: cannonball molds. The inside of the mold was painted with an equally unlikely ultra-white paint concocted from barium sulfate and PVA glue. With a few ports machined into the mold, it works perfectly to diffuse the light from his dye lasers for proper measurements.

Lasers can be an expensive hobby, but [Les] always seems to find a way to make things more affordable and just as good. Whether it’s homemade doorknob caps for high-voltage power supplies or blasting the Bayer filter off a cheap CCD camera, he always seems to find a way.

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