New space-age insulating material for homes, clothing and other everyday uses (w/ Video)

August 20, 2012

A major improvement in the world's lightest solid material and best solid insulating material, described here today, may put more of this space-age wonder into insulated clothing, refrigerators with thinner walls that hold more food, building insulation and other products.

The report, on development of a new flexible "" ― stuff so light it has been called "solid smoke" ― was part of the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. More than 14,000 scientists and others are in the City of Brotherly Love for the event, which features 8,600 reports on new development in science and other topics.

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Mary Ann B. Meador, Ph.D., explained that traditional aerogels, developed decades ago and made from silica, found in beach sand, are brittle, and break and crumble easily. Scientists have improved the strength of aerogels over the years, and Meador described one of these muscled-up materials developed with colleagues at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

"The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than their silica counterparts," Meador said. "A thick piece actually can support the weight of a car. And they can be produced in a thin form, a film so flexible that a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses are possible."

Flexible aerogels, for instance, could be used in a new genre of super-insulating clothing that keeps people warm in the cold with less bulk than traditional "thermal" garments. Tents and sleeping bags would have the same advantages. Home refrigerator and freezer walls insulated with other forms of the material would shrink in thickness, increasing storage capacity. Meador said that the aerogel is 5-10 times more efficient than existing insulation, with a quarter-inch-thick sheet providing as much insulation as 3 inches of fiberglass. And there could be multiple applications in thin-but-high-efficiency for buildings, pipes, water heater tanks and other devices.

NASA envisions one use in an advanced re-entry system for spacecraft returning to Earth from the International Space Station, and perhaps other missions. Re-entry vehicles need a heat shield that keeps them from burning up due to frictional heating from Earth's atmosphere. Those shields can be bulky and heavy. So NASA is exploring use of a heat shield made from flexible aerogel that inflates like a balloon when spacecraft enter the atmosphere.

Meador said the material also could be used to insulate spacesuits. However, it likely would not be good for firefighting clothing products, which require protection beyond the 575 degrees Fahrenheit limits of the aerogel.

Scientists produced the stronger new aerogels in two ways. One involved making changes in the innermost architecture of traditional silica aerogels. They used a polymer, a plastic-like material, to reinforce the networks of silica that extend throughout an aerogel's structure. Another involved making aerogels from polyimide, an incredibly strong and heat-resistant polymer, or plastic-like material, and then inserting brace-like cross-links to add further strength to the structure.

Explore further: Penn Physicists Develop a Carbon Nanotube Aeroegel Optimizing Strength, Shape and Conductivity

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4 comments

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eric96
1 / 5 (3) Aug 20, 2012
"may put more of this space-age wonder into insulated clothing, refrigerators with thinner walls that hold more food, building insulation and other products."

Aerogel has been around for a long time and has been exclusive to Universities, the Army and Nasa. The problem is cost, not strength. They use the same material and then some, so it will cost even more. Definitely won't enter a hardware store, probably will be used in the most expensive hardware....Nothing exciting. And clothing; are you nuts you won't be able to find a piece that cost less than a grand, but it will probably cost you least 2k.

Think I am going to make a new site called: newproducts.com
It will showcase everything new that reaches the consumer.
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2012
I'm waiting for skylight inserts.

By the way eric, areogel insulated jackets have been on the market for years and are under $400 USD. You can also buy aerogel camping pads and shoe inserts.
Jitterbewegung
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 21, 2012
If firefighters can't use it because 575 degrees f is the limit then how could a spacecraft use it for re-entry?
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2012
If firefighters can't use it because 575 degrees f is the limit then how could a spacecraft use it for re-entry?
Well that's not an issue for the latest mars mission, since it's a one way trip.

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