A photo of a young, attactive woman dressed in workout attire drinking water.

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With the world getting progressively warmer (2016 is already the hottest year on record) keeping people cool is going to be a big business… a really big business. Running air conditioning to keep offices and homes cool during the summer can get really expensive, and it’s certainly not the most efficient way to go about beating the heat. Part of the problem is that almost all clothing traps infrared radiation against our bodies, which keeps us warm. That’s great for when it’s cold out, but not so great when it’s hot out.

That’s why a team of Stanford engineers is working on a new plastic-based material that not only allows sweat to evaporate, but also lets that infrared radiation out (which fabrics like cotton aren’t so good at). The new fabric leaves people about 4 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than cotton, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is actually quite a notable improvement. Wearing clothing made of such material would help everybody stay a little cooler so that they don’t need to rely as heavily on air conditioning at work or at home.

While the fabric does have cooling properties, it’s still pretty early in the development phase. In order to make something like this work as a textile, it has to be produced in mass quantities, otherwise it won’t be common or cheap enough to have any real impact on the world. But the Stanford team is working on finding ways to manufacture it as well as develop more fabric-like qualities. They’re even expanding color and texture options. The material is based partly on technology used in the production of batteries, which are produced in large quantities already. The trick will be finding ways to utilize at least some of the concepts used in battery production to make this material cheap and plentiful.