City of Adelaide Council is partnering with the University of Adelaide to trial the use of a ceramic cool roof coating called Super Therm, originally developed with NASA, that is more effective at blocking heat than an ordinary white roof. 

Rising global temperatures are creating a hotter and drier climate that makes the urban heat island effect more intense, particularly in dense inner-urban areas such as the Adelaide CBD. 

At the same time, the need for greater energy efficiency in buildings and cut airconditioning costs means there’s a greater need for products that can help to passively cool buildings. 

But while white or lighter coloured roofs are more effective than dark roofs at blocking visual light from the sun, they do little to block the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn or the infra-red rays that are felt as heat. 

This is important, because short-wave visual light radiation makes up only around 44 per cent of the heat from the sun, with around 53 per cent coming from infrared radiation and a further 3 per cent from UV.

A home with Super Therm in Booleroo Centre, SA.

As part of the trial, the city council is applying a ceramic cool coating called Super Therm, which blocks 99 per cent of UV rays, 92 per cent of visual light and 99.5 per cent of infrared radiation.

The trial is being run on the Horticultural Building and SA Uniting Church Netball Association Club Rooms in Adelaide’s Park 22, near the Anzac Highway. The buildings were selected based on the Urban Heat Mapping Project and university testing, because they have due to their north facing unshaded and relatively hot roofs

Sensors were installed on the roofs and inside the buildings for three months before the coating was applied, in order to collect baseline data. This will be compared with the readings after the cool roof coating has been applied, with a final report to be issued in early 2023. 

A house in regional South Australia with Super Therm.

The Adelaide trial builds on earlier studies, including a US Department of Energy study across at three locations that showed it created 20-50 per cent energy savings, along with independent lab tests in Japan, Russia and US.

These results will then be used to make decisions about building materials in the future, equipping us with local verified data to use when engaging the community, developers and partners in relation to adapting buildings to climate change.

Changing the conversation

The trial is an exciting opportunity for Super Therm’s Australian and New Zealand distributor,  NEOtech Coatings Australia, which is based in South Australia.

NEOtech Coatings’ managing director Shane Strudwick told The Fifth Estate it’s important to move the conversation around passively cooled roofing beyond colour, and begin educating people about what heat is and how it’s made up.

“The conversation in Australia seems to be a little bit behind the eight ball. While there are some great global initiatives that are going on, Australia’s only just starting to figure it out, but it gets clouded by misinformation,” Mr Strudwick said.

A data centre brick wall with Super Therm.

“The way we explain it, is on a 30 degree day or 35 degree day, a black car is going to be around 60 degrees, a white car can still be 45 to 50 degrees. But if white in itself was a colour that stopped all heat, that car should be an ambient 30-35 degrees. 

“People seem to make this assumption that white blocks all the heat, and that’s the message that gets perpetuated. But they don’t understand that if the infrared component of heat, which is the 53 per cent, isn’t also blocked, then that white car will heat up.

“We’ve seen people have a conversation as they focus on SRI, or solar reflective index, and so a lot of products come out, and they talk about being as white as white as they can be. That’s good in theory, while the roof is clean, but what happens to the conductive heat, or if the coating gets dirty?”

It’s literally space-age technology

Super Therm was originally developed with NASA in the late 1980s by leading global ceramics researcher Joseph E Pritchett from Superior Products International II. Inc.

“He worked with NASA for six years and was able to isolate 12 ceramics, out of something like 7000 ceramics out there, that have the potential to work with UV, infrared and visual heat to reflect those because it is based on waves,” Mr Strudwick said.

“He was then able to find, not long after that, a fourth ceramic which is able to stop heat load.  Essentially, it keeps the surface of any surface – it wouldn’t matter if it’s wood, steel, brick, anything – near ambient temperature.”

While Super Therm has been popular overseas for 30 years, particularly in countries such as Japan, it has to date failed to gain traction in the Australian market.”

Japan was actually the first country where Super Therm really rocketed in the ’90s, Mr Strudwick said. Since the early 1990s it has installed more than 9 million square metres of the product, led by companies such as Sony, Nissan, Kirin brewery and Toshiba.

The product’s been in Australia for more than 25 years, he said, but the previous distributor wasn’t able to get the level of traction that was required from a business perspective.

A Nissan Factory with Super Therm.

NEOtech takes over

After taking over the Australian distribution rights just before the pandemic, Mr Strudwick has been reversing that.

The key ambition, he said, is reducing net carbon emissions, improving sustainability and “finding ways to protect the community passively and safely”. 

While it’s still early days, the company has had some early wins. Along with the City of Adelaide Council trial, it’s building a nationwide distribution network and has signed up some big-name clients, including Rio Tino, which has “a lot of problems up in northwest Western Australia with heat”. 

Rio Tinto Pilbara shipping containers with Super Therm.

With the shocking publicity that has surrounded western Sydney in recent weeks after the dumping of a planning policy, the Design and Place SEPP, that was designed to mitigate heat impact, Mr Strudwick hopes there will be some good business coming out of Sydney soon.

UPDATED 18 May to include additional photos.

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