Life-E

From left: Chao Hui, Feng Liu, Andrew Merrell, and Ninghai Su

Changing the Way Homes are Heated

A growing number of homeowners today are turning to the comfort of radiant floor heating to warm their homes. Unlike the more common forced air systems, radiant heating uses electromagnetic waves to heat objects and people, not the air. These objects absorb the energy from the infrared radiation and emanate heat to other objects in an energy efficient manner. Traditional radiant heating works through either hydronic systems (pipes carrying a warm liquid) or electric systems embedded in or under the floor. While radiant heat is a comfortable alternative to forced hot air, existing methods require expensive and time-consuming installations and often provide uneven heat under areas where pipes and wires cannot be installed.

Life-E

Life-E is a U-spinout created to commercialize the invention of Feng Liu, Ph.D., professor of materials science and engineering at the U, who developed a new, more affordable, adaptable, and lightweight radiant heating product he named Nanoxene. In contrast to other forms of radiant heating, installation is as simple as laying down thin sheets of Nanoxene and connecting them to a power source.

Nanoxene painted on a tile

The Creation of Nanoxene

Nanoxene is an electrothermal coating made up of advanced multicomponent, multidimensional nanocomposite materials. Once attached to a source of power, the lightweight film instantly heats and offers even, tunable coverage (i.e., its temperature can be easily and rapidly changed from 30C to 150C), unlike the warm and cold patches associated with traditional radiant heating pipes and wires. And, because it is painted on thin flexible sheets that can be cut to fit, every crevice is covered and heated.

Nanoxene is highly adaptable and can be used on a variety of surfaces including ceramics, wood, paper, various polymer films, and even cloth. When applied to soft surfaces, Nanoxene bends and folds. One of the main components of Nanoxene is graphene, an advanced material that has received a lot of press over the last few years for its size, versatility, strength, and excellent ability to conduct electricity and heat.

Promising Applications

Nanoxene can be adapted for a wide range of applications beyond heating homes, including heated driveways and sidewalks, airplane de-icing, and heated clothing. Nanoxene’s electrical conductivity can be made several orders higher than most conventional conducting films, with power conversion efficiency from electricity to heat close to 100 percent, simply because the coating does not require metal flakes which traditionally carry the charge.

Nanoxene painted on jeans

Liu is excited about the future of Life-E. “We were recently awarded a grant from the U.S. Army to use Nanoxene to heat portable tents,” Liu explains. “Nanoxene will weigh much less than current heating methods such as stoves, will provide more even and comfortable heating for the troops, and will be easier and faster to disassemble.”

The applications of Nanoxene seem endless. While the heating costs will be comparable to other forms of radiant heat, Life-E will give homeowners far more control through instant zone heating that can be tweaked with apps for smartphones and tablets. Nanoxene is also a green material, containing no harmful or poisonous elements.

The Future of Life-E

Life-E has moved beyond lab samples to manufacture testing. Their goal is to get their first line of product up and running in the winter. Once the heated tents for the Army are complete, Life-E will move on to residential radiant heat, and then ultimately to de-icing applications. With plans to build a manufacturing facility, Life-E expects to reach $2.5 million dollars in revenue in its first year.

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