Precision heating to home and office: VTT develops flexible heater
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a thin, flexible and plastic-free heater to help in lowering the energy consumption at homes and offices, and also to achieve individual comfort temperatures. When attached to seats, walls or floors, heaters can in the future identify their users and immediately generate heat to the individual temperature preferences of the occupants. Hot Delivery Company is piloting use of these heaters in food delivery bags.
The use of insulation materials and reduction of room temperatures are means to lowering energy consumption of buildings to prevent climate change. A one-degree decrease in room temperature leads to roughly 5% savings in heating costs. However, the comfort of residents suffers if the temperature of homes is decreased by several degrees. Comfortable temperatures can be achieved locally very quickly and with lower total energy consumption, if the heating can turn on and off rapidly as needed on the surfaces around the inhabitants, for example on the floor surface, on a seat cushion or on the wallpaper of an adjacent wall.
Surfaces can be heated with the thin, bendable and flexible heater developed by VTT, which is produced by printing the heating electronic components with a roll-to-roll method. A 50 micrometres or 0.05 millimetres thick metal mesh can be cut to form and installed on, for example, fabric, paper or floor laminate without an additional support layer. This has very limited impact on the properties of the material, such as bending, stretch or breathability, unlike the layer structures used in earlier floor and roof heating systems.
“We can produce extremely wide-ranging and fast heaters for different surfaces, and they can be controlled zonally by a common control system. In the future, intelligence can also be added to the heaters with sensors that can identify the person in the room and their perception of the comfort temperature, for example. With the help of the sensors, the heater could also function as part of the safety system,” explains principal scientist Terho Kololuoma from VTT.
Home heating is just one example of what the flexible heater developed by VTT can do. When assessing the suitability of the technology, the research group has cooperated, for example, with the Finnish Hot Delivery Company that develops intelligent transport solutions for catering services. In Finland, the Finnish Food Authority Evira requires that the temperature of food delivered hot does not drop below 60°C to prevent the growth of microbes that are harmful to humans.
“We are developing a new generation of food transport solutions to ensure that the delivered food is both delicious and safe when it arrives. We are piloting the flexible VTT heater in our new food delivery bag as the properties of the heater seem promising,” says Aleksi Rautavuori from Hot Delivery Company.
“Our heater could also be used to disinfect tables and other surfaces in hospitals and other public areas. The surface temperature can be quickly raised up to 130 degrees,” Kololuoma explains.
The team led by Kololuoma operates in VTT's business incubator, VTT LaunchPad, and has studied the application possibilities and commercialisation paths of the zonally controlled heater with one-year Business Finland Research to Business funding.
Caption: Production of the heater with a roll-to-roll method (photo: VTT)