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Silica Aerogel Is A Unique Ultra-Light Material

Feb 23

Silica Aerogel in Insulation is a unique ultra-light material which offers superior thermal insulation properties. It is also fire resistant and retains elasticity up to 1200 degC. These remarkable features of the material makes it a highly suitable alternative to conventional aerospace materials such as fiberglass.

The key to the amazing thermal properties of aerogel lies in its unique structure consisting of nano-sized pores. This enables the material to trap air molecules between the individual silica gel particles. The heat generated by the absorbed air is then slowly released through these pores. Aerogel’s low vapor pressure also enhances its thermal insulation properties.

A new method of making aerogel is being developed which allows for it to be reinforced with polymers. This would significantly increase its mechanical strength allowing it to be used in applications such as flexible thermal and acoustic insulation blankets. The reinforcement process also changes the surface of the aerogel which increases its thermal conductivity.

Currently, most of the aerogels on the market are monolithic and have limited applications due to their poor mechanical strength. To overcome this issue, engineers have been working on different methods to create a more flexible aerogel which can be used in various aerospace applications.

The Spaceloft project is one such initiative which aims to develop a flexible aerogel that can be used as an effective thermal barrier on the exterior of a spacecraft. The idea behind this is that it will prevent heat from escaping the interior of the spacecraft and thereby reducing the amount of fuel needed for takeoff. In addition, it is also hoped that the aerogel will be able to protect the spacecraft from micrometeorites and other debris as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere.

To achieve this goal, the team has developed a chemical process which will allow them to create polymer-enforced aerogels. This process is based on a reaction between the precursor solution for low-density aerogel and a water-soluble polymer such as tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS). Upon drying, this will result in a hybrid material that is both flexible and strong.

Unlike most conventional insulation, the low-density aerogel produced by this technique is highly porous with an average pore size of 0.6 nm. This results in a void density of only 0.087 +/- 0.004 g/cm3. The high permeability also means that any impacted matter, such as metals or glass, can easily be extracted from the aerogel. This is a significant improvement over the Mir Environmental Effects Package which was equipped with two transparent tiles of the same size which only had a void density of 10 mg/cm3.

The tetraethyl orthosilicate which was used to make the first blocks of low-density aerogels was found to be toxic so it was replaced with tetraethyl phosphate (TEP). This chemical is also nontoxic and has a much better reactivity with the silica. This has led to the development of a safer, faster, and cheaper production process which is aimed at producing large quantities of low-density silica aerogel for commercial use.