A UB engineering professor has teamed up with two Buffalo companies to create technology that can enhance physical and mental endurance by helping prevent overheating in endurance athletes, occupational workers and people with chronic illnesses.
Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been working for the past year with Coolnomics LLC and QSG Technologies to develop CoolPak Hydrogel for advanced personal cooling solutions.
Common cooling technologies have been around for many years, including gel, ice, evaporative and other phase change technologies.
Coolnomics co-founder Luanne DiBernardo explains that “evaporative cooling products are dependent on circulating air and a lack of humidity, so are impractical and ineffective in most environments.”
Ren, who also holds appointments in the Department of Chemistry, College of Arts and Sciences, and UB’s RENEW Institute, has worked with partners to create a more advanced material that will provide high-impact cooling while remaining flexible even when frozen, enabling a more effective and comfortable cooling experience.
“The previous cooling materials have been rigid and tough, which makes them unforgiving for athletes, occupational workers, soldiers and so much more,” Ren says. “Our material is ductile, flexible and lightweight. This is accomplished by locking the water into the polymer chain network.”
The material is described in a study published in July in the journal Nanoscale Advances.
The new technology will be incorporated into wearables designed to enhance physical and mental endurance. The idea is to prevent heat injuries among the many populations commonly challenged when exertional heat — rising body temperatures due to intense exercising in the heat — meets environmental heat.
In addition to the industries mentioned above, other sectors affected by extreme heat include the oil, gas, airline and nuclear industries. Within those populations are many of the “estimated 157 million Americans with a chronic illness,” as reported by the National Health Council. Heat is proven to worsen the side effects of many chronic conditions.
CoolPak Hydrogel products will be manufactured in Buffalo.
“The technology transfer office at UB has been tremendously helpful to facilitate this partnership,” Ren says, adding that the technology could spotlight UB and its growing entrepreneurial economy.
The work is supported by a grant from FuzeHub, a nonprofit organization that assists small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies in New York State.
“The collaboration between Coolnomics, QSG Technologies and Dr. Ren’s team at the University at Buffalo is a great example of the types of manufacturing grant projects that have helped build the Jeff Lawrence Innovation Fund portfolio,” says Julianne Clouthier, director of industry engagement for FuzeHub. “The Innovation Fund provides direct assistance to the manufacturing, research and development, technology and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and encourages collaboration between not-for-profit organizations in New York State and companies that work within the manufacturing industry.”
The project is expected to be completed in early 2021 and FuzeHub looks forward to seeing the economic impacts derived from the development of the CoolPak Hydrogel, she adds.