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Purdue researchers win South by Southwest innovation award for world’s whitest paint

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Purdue Professor Xiulin Ruan and his team recently won an innovation award at SXSW for their extremely white paint. (Photo courtesy of Purdue University)

Purdue University researchers behind the world’s whitest paint were recently given a national innovation award for their work.

The paint absorbs significantly less heat than existing white paints, and scientists say it could be a tool for solving climate change.

Purdue researchers were acknowledged for their innovation and sustainability efforts during the annual South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The conference celebrates work across industries including film, music, and tech.

Xiulin Ruan is a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue. He says the white paint reflects over 98 percent of sunlight, which means it could cool buildings without having to use any energy.

“If we covered the earth’s surface, one percent of the Earth’s land, we could totally offset the warming effect of the Earth,” he said.

Traditional white paints only reflect between 80 and 90 percent of sunlight. But the Purdue paint absorbs less of the sun’s heat than it reflects, which allows it to stay cooler than its surroundings.

“What determines how hot the roof is absorption,” Ruan said. “So commercial white paints will absorb 10 to 20 percent of the sunlight. Our paint absorbs 5 to 10 times less from the sun. That’s a big difference.”

Traditional paints use a pigment that is able to reflect light on the visible spectrum, but Purdue’s white paint reflects UV rays – which is what gives their paint its edge.

Ruan said his team is still in the process of making the paint commercially viable, which includes testing the paint's long-term durability. That means it could be one to two years before the paint is able to reach the market.