jianhuihong的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/jianhuihong



已有 2763 次阅读 2015-8-17 10:50 |个人分类:环保|系统分类:科研笔记|关键词:水库加盖| 水库加盖 |文章来源:转载

Why are Shade Balls Black Instead of White?



Los Angeles has coated its reservoirs in millions of black plastic balls. But why are they a heat-absorbing black instead of light-reflecting white? Because they’re shade balls, and their purpose has nothing to do with the drought.

Switch between wearing a dark shirt and a light shirt on a sunny day and you’ll quickly be reminded that dark colours absorb light and heat up faster than lighter colours that reflect light. So why are those shade balls in the Los Angeles reservoirs black instead of white? Because their purpose is to be a cheap, durable, safe way of providing shade, but not to keep the reservoirs cool.

The balls are coated in carbon black, a food-safe pigment with an albedo near zero. Both these characteristics are vital for explaining why the balls are designed to be a dull light-absorbing black instead of a shiny light-reflecting white, and are a lot more important than a bit of heat.


The purpose of shade balls is to provide shade, not to prevent evaporation. The primary purpose of the shade balls is to block sunlight so the ultraviolet light doesn’t catalyze nasty chemical reactions. Chlorine can accelerate reactions leading to bromate when exposed to UV light, which is a carcinogen that really should violate drinking water standards instead of merely being a thing it’s nice to minimize. It is a secondary benefit that the shade also reduces evaporation, a small but important smidgeon of water savings during the ongoing extreme drought.

Why are Shade Balls Black Instead of White?1

This looks like a dolphin. Pareidolia ftw?


A small portion of the 90 million black plastic balls added to the Los Angeles Reservoir on August 12, 2015. Image credit: AP/Damian Dovarganes

Carbon black is nearly-pure elemental carbon produced by burning hydrocarbons in an air-poor environment. It’s mainly used in rubbers (like car tires), but about 9% of it is used as a pigment in plastics and paints. Carbon black can pose a health risk when it’s a powder by irritating lungs, but as a pigment it’s locked safely away. It is used worldwide in food packaging, and meets the NSF/ANSI 61 standards for materials that come in contact with drinking water. This means the balls won’t do anything nasty to the water supply they are protecting.

Carbon black has an albedo near zero, which means it is incredibly dark and reflects almost no light. That in turn means that any sunlight is absorbed by the ball, not reflected or refracted. For thin plastics, black is opaque while white is translucent. Cheap, thin-walled black balls still provide actual shade while lighter colours permit sunlight to penetrate into the water. Blocking as much sunlight as possible is the name of the game for shade balls, so black is the better colour. In an interview with Mashable, a spokesperson from the ball-manufacturing company XavierC explains that this theory is backed up by their testing, “After decades of testing, black has been deemed the color that provides the best protection.”

Black will also help the balls survive longer. Ultraviolet light, the component of sunlight that gives us sunburns, is very effective at breaking down plastics. This is problematic by reducing the lifespan of the balls, and thus increasing the expense of replacing them. Carbon black will prevent the plastic from breaking down in UV light, giving them a multi-decade lifespan.

Why are Shade Balls Black Instead of White?

Floating plastic balls cast shade to protect water quality; any reduction in evaporation is just a bonus. Image credit: AP/Damian Dovarganes

Black balls will heat up more than white balls would, and might even bump the temperature in the reservoir. They also might not. Sunlight heats an uncovered reservoir not by directly heating individual water molecules, but by heating the bottom and that heat transferring to water through conduction. The warm, less-dense water on the bottom rises, and fresh, cooler, water sinks down to be heated in turn. In a covered reservoir, sunlight heats the top surface of floating balls instead. Water is still heated by conduction, but it stays at the top instead of circulating. That might slow down heat transfer. But either way, it isn’t very important.

As a final bonus, while black heats up faster than white, it also cools down faster. Anything that absorbs light readily emits it equally-readily, so when the sun sets a reservoir coated in black balls is going to cool down rapidly as heat is radiated into the night.



2 魏焱明 陈楷翰

该博文允许注册用户评论 请点击登录 评论 (1 个评论)


Archiver|手机版|科学网 ( 京ICP备14006957 )

GMT+8, 2019-12-12 21:18

Powered by ScienceNet.cn

Copyright © 2007- 中国科学报社