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Passive Thermo-Adaptive Textiles

ARPA-E Award: 
San Francisco, CA
Project Term: 
05/08/2015 to 12/07/2019
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) account for 13% of energy consumed in the U.S. and about 40% of the energy used in a typical U.S. residence, making it the largest energy expense for most homes. Even though more energy-efficient HVAC technologies are being adopted in both the commercial and residential sectors, these technologies focus on efficiently heating or cooling large areas and dealing with how the building's net occupancy changes during a day, a week and across seasons. Building operators have to tightly manage temperature for an average occupancy comfort level; but the occupants only occupy a small fraction of the building's interior. There is a critical need for technologies that create localization of thermal management to relax the temperature settings in buildings, reduce the load on HVAC systems and enhance occupant comfort. This is achieved by tailoring the thermal environment around the individual, thus saving energy by not over-heating or over-cooling areas within the building where the occupants do not reside.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Otherlab will develop thermally adaptive materials that change their thickness in response to temperature changes, allowing the creation of garments that passively respond to variations in temperature. In contrast to existing garments that have a constant insulation value whether conditions are hot or cold, thermally adaptive materials change shape as temperature changes, leading to a change in insulation. The material change is a physical response, passively operating and requiring no input from the wearer or any control system. Garments made from thermally adaptive fabrics will enable the wearing of fewer layers of clothing for comfort over a broader temperature range, effectively lowering the heating and cooling requirements for buildings. Beyond apparel, this advanced insulation may find applications in drapery and bedding.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, DELTA technology could increase energy efficiency, reduce emissions produced by powering traditional HVAC systems, and enable more sustainable heating and cooling architectures for energy-efficient building design.


The innovations developed under the DELTA program have the potential to increase energy efficiency, improve overall building performance, and reduce HVAC energy consumption by at least 15%.


The heating and cooling of buildings generates about 13% of the U.S. domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Through improved utilization of energy produced by fossil fuels, with full adoption DELTA can reduce these emissions by 2%.


DELTA program innovations can help U.S. businesses eventually reduce reliance on tightly controlled building environments, thus enabling radical and sustainable architecture in next generation energy efficient building designs.

Innovation Update: 

(As of May 2018)

Otherlab has developed a textile that can passively double its insulation in response to a change in ambient temperature from 81°F to 63°F. The textile’s adaptive structure comes from pairing mismatched materials with advanced fabrication processes, where one material responds much more strongly to a temperature change than its complement. The temperature change causes the textile to go from a flat, thin textile to a slightly wavy textile that traps air in small pockets between the layers, increasing its insulation value. All of this was achieved using commodity polymers commonly used in the industry. The team is now optimizing the fabric, fine-tuning its feel, breathability, and washability.


The apparel, outdoor, and home textiles business sectors all have commercial interest in thermally adaptive textiles. With the support of private investment, the team established a spin-off company to commercialize the technology. In the second phase of its ARPA-E project, the team will focus on material sampling and identifying go-to-market partners with experience in prototype testing and domestic mill production agreements.


For a detailed assessment of the Otherlab project and impact, please click here.


ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Jennifer Gerbi
Project Contact: 
Dr. Brent Ridley
Release Date: