Aerogel, the future of insulating materials

By reading Ecogeek I get to know aerogel, a material that insulates 37 times more than fiberglass. The latter is largely used to insulate houses nowadays.

Aerogel is the lightest solid known, extremely resistant, great for soundproofing, and yes, still very expensive : 1,300 USD (approx 800 €) per pound.

But a team of researchers in Malaysia are working on a way that might cut drastically production prices. A very interesting news that you will discover if you

Maerogel ( stands for Malaysian aerogel ) is made of organic waste and might someday cut by 80 percent the cost of productions.

Prof. Dr. Halimaton Hamdan and her team from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia have been working for some time on this.

As Ecogeek states it :

(t)he new aerogel is produced from rice husks, a discarded agricultural product. As you might expect, Malaysia has plenty of rice husks, so they’re pretty excited about the possibility of turning them into something valuable. As such, the government has given Hamdan a $65 M grant to help develop a technique for the large-scale production of the new aerogels.

Hamdan’s breakthrough was at first accidental. She wanted to do research on silica, but was having a hard time finding the raw material. One night, she saw a television program on the difficulty of disposing of rice husks. And rice husks, it turns out, are 20% silica. After eight years of work, Hamdan finally found a cheap way to produce pure silica from rice husks. And once the silica is acquired, making the aerogel is a cinch.

If Dr. Hamdan and her colleagues are able to use that $65 M to scale up production of this material, we should soon be seeing it everywhere. If that happens, the energy savings would be incredible. As a bonus; the production of Maerogel (short for Malaysian Aerogel) would also make use of an abundant natural waste product.

Now, you must be willing to know more about what is sometimes considered as the material of the future.

Aerogel was first created in 1931 by Samuel S. Kistler, It has been used in space during the NASA’s Stardust mission in the 1990s.

Extremely resistant, a sample of just two grams can support a brick of 2.5 kilograms (see picture right, from NASA, via Wikipedia)

According to the Wikipedia article :

To the touch, aerogels feel like a light but rigid foam, something between Styrofoam and the green floral foam used for arranging flowers. Despite what their name may suggest, aerogels are dry materials and do not resemble a gel in their physical properties but a nanofoam.

(…) Aerogels are remarkable thermal insulators because they almost nullify three methods of heat transfer (convection, conduction and radiation). They are good convective inhibitors because air cannot circulate throughout the lattice. Silica aerogel is an especially good conductive insulator because silica is a poor conductor of heat.

It is considered by the people of the trade in France that to insulate a wall requires ten to fifteen centimeters of fiberglass and 20 to 25 for ceilings.

With aerogel, these figures would go down to four to five millimeters of aerogel for walls and eight millimeters for ceilings. Simply amazing.

I hope that research on aerogel will enable prices to drop so that it can be used as the great insulating material it should become.

Be sure that I will keep you posted on this matter. So for this and for much more stay tuned and don’t hesitate to leave a comment as I would gladly read you.

Further reading :

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