Thermal energy and phase change materials (PCMs) are completely intertwined. Thermal energy is wholly necessary for PCMs because, without it, they won’t change state.
We see real-world applications of thermal energy and PCMs all the time. In building and construction, for example, as ambient temperatures around a building start to rise, PCMs can absorb that thermal energy and prevent the internal temperature of the building from getting too high. On the flip side, at night when temperatures drop back down, PCMs can release the energy and help heat the space. Pretty cool, right?
This same principle applies to textiles, electronics, food safety, pharmaceuticals, cold chain shipping, and much more. Anything that needs to be controlled within that climate, the energy can be transferred and PCMs can help to maintain that.
People’s understanding of thermal energy and phase change materials (PCMs) typically depends on their role and how they might use them. Someone in engineering will have a more technical and scientific knowledge of these topics whereas someone in sales or marketing might skew more toward ROI and real-world applications.
Usually, people know as much as they need to for their specific role.
One common misconception that people have, however, relates to the science behind thermal energy. When you think about putting ice cubes in a glass of water, you might assume that the ice cools the water down. In reality, technically what's happening is the water's heating the ice, which in turn makes it colder.
Now, this might sound like semantics, but it does make a difference when designing custom solutions for different applications. Like when you put your hand on a mattress with PCMs, it feels like the mattress is cooling your hands down. But what's actually happening is your hand is giving heat energy into the PCMs, so your hand is losing energy and making it feel colder.
Some of these concepts might ring a bell as you think back to high school science class, but understanding these basic principles is critical to using PCMs on a daily basis.
Sometimes, people get so focused on their application area that they forget that PCMs go in both directions. Let's say you work in cold chain shipping and you need to cool your product, you might forget that you can also use PCMs to heat products.