Paper-thin embedded elements respond quickly so consumers can turn heating on and off in the way they do lighting, says Digital Warmth developer
As energy bills across Europe skyrocket, researchers in Finland have created a paper-thin alternative to radiators that could dramatically reduce heating use, and cost. The product can be integrated into surfaces like floors, walls, and even furniture or textiles.
Digital Warmth is a ‘fast response’ electric heating system developed by the Warming Surfaces Company, a spinout from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
The system comprises 0.2mm-0.3mm-thick heater elements that provide real-time control of heat intensity and the area heated – unlike conventional radiators that tend to be left on and slowly warm the air – to ‘drastically reduce the cost of heating’.
Researchers are targeting an average 20% improvement in energy efficiency in buildings versus traditional heating systems.
This means building users can start to control heating the same way they control lighting, says Jani-Mikael Kuusisto, CEO and co-founder of The Warming Surfaces Company: ‘Traditionally, when we leave a room or a building, we turn off the lights. But we leave the heating running at the same temperature, because we don't want to have to wait for it to reheat when we come home … with Digital Warmth comfort heat can then be controlled to the desired level much more rapidly, providing a significant saving in total energy consumption.’
The heater element is a ‘pixelated’ matrix of heaters manufactured from recycled metal using ‘Printed Intelligence’ production technology, which minimises the amount of material required. Metal layers can be applied to different porous materials, like paper, cardboard, or textiles used for interior design and furniture.
According to Kuusisto, initial products in development focus on ‘furniture applications and bringing warmth into large area surfaces in public spaces’. The plan is to build pilot facilities to quantify the optimum area needed for the system to work effectively, with the working theory being that it's more effective to have a smaller temperature change across larger areas.
Fire safety is a particular focus of research due to the hazards associated with exposing high temperatures to materials like paper or fabric. Initially products are likely to be embedded in high pressure laminates that are inherently non flammable, or textiles impregnated with flame retardant materials.
Furthermore, each pixelated element in the system features a small circuit that controls and monitors heat within it ‘If it detects any disturbance that might be a safety hazard, it will immediately turn off,’ says Kuusisto.
The slimline integrated design should give architects more space to work with. The lightweight system is also suitable for pre-fabrication into building elements for modular construction, as opposed to being installed separately on site.
Building occupants will probably control the location and intensity of heat via a smartphone or tablet. ‘With time, we want to connect our system to home and building automation systems,’ says Kuusisto. ‘And in our far-reaching vision the surfaces will be able to sense people within a building and their specific temperature needs at any given moment, adjusting heat to provide tailored micro climates,’ he concludes.