The Blog

Welcome to Open Source Aerogel


What, you may ask, is aerogel? Aerogels are the world's lightest solid materials, composed of up to 99.98% air by volume. Aerogels are a diverse class of amazing materials with properties unlike anything else. Transparent superinsulating silica aerogels exhibit the lowest thermal conductivity of any solid known. Ultrahigh surface area carbon aerogels power today's fast-charging supercapacitors. And ultrastrong, bendable x-aerogels are the lowest-density structural materials ever developed.

Welcome to Aerogel.org. Here you will find an encyclopedic reference about aerogels, how-to guides for making aerogels and building a do-it-yourself supercritical dryer, the world's most comprehensive aerogel image gallery, a podcast with the world's leading aerogel scientists, and more.

Aerogel's not just for NASA anymore. Welcome to open-source nanotech.

Valentine Aerogels!


The team at Aerogel Technologies has come up with a new monolithic aerogel product that integrates optically-active materials into an aerogel architecture, demonstrates aerogel shape control, and attracts the opposite sex all in the same material envelope.  Indeed, pink-heart shaped aerogels are now available on BuyAerogel.com.

Although these aerogels are silica-based, you can make colorful aerogels of your own by following the procedure for lanthanide oxide aerogels under the Make section here on Aerogel.org.

 

 

Stephen Steiner | January 30th, 2013 | Comments Off

Amazing New Dust-Free High-Temperature Aerogel Blanket


Cabot Aerogel has just released a new dust-free high-temperature superinsulating aerogel blanket called Aeroclad™.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with aerogel blankets, they are generally made by combining silica aerogel (which is brittle but superinsulating) with fibers (which are flexible) to make a composite that has the superinsulating advantages of silica aerogel but unlike native silica aerogels, can be flexed, rolled, cut, and sewn.  Previously, there were only two types of blanket materials in town—Aspen Aerogels’ blankets (Spaceloft, Cryogel, and Pyrogel), made by casting a silica aerogel coating onto fibrous inorganic (for example, fiberglass) battings, and Cabot Aerogel’s blanket (Thermal Wrap), made by fusing polymer fibers and aerogel particles together in a “bird’s nest” setup.  Aspen’s materials have the advantages of high-temperature stability, but tend to kick up dust when handled aggressively (which while completely safe, causes trouble for some applications).  Cabot’s Thermal Wrap, on the other hand, is essentially dust-free, but has the minor side effect of melting above 180°C  (350°F).  Not so good for those blowtorch experiments.

Cabot’s new Aeroclad blanket, however, combines the best of both worlds—by fusing aerogel particles and inorganic fibers together into a composite, Aeroclad is dust-free and high-temperature stable.  According to Cabot, Aeroclad is two times better insulating that current insulation products used in industry, including fiberglass, mineral wool, and calcium silicate.

A major application for the new Aeroclad blanket will be in refineries, where shockingly less than 20% of all pipes are insulated.  For an industry where energy = $, that’s a pretty good indication that insulating pipes must really suck if they don’t do it more than they do.  And it does suck.  Current insulating materials trap moisture underneath, causing the pipe to slowly corrode over time—a dastardly, expensive problem called corrosion under insulation, or CUI.  Fortunately, Aeroclad is also hydrophobic, meaning it repels water and protects pipes from corroding.

“The Cabot Aeroclad blanket delivers the unparalleled performance and benefits of an aerogel product while addressing a clear market need for dust free and superior corrosion performance,” says Cabot’s Matthew Greenfield, commercial manager, Energy and Industrial, Cabot Aerogel. “Cabot has built a reputation in the industry for its unmatched customer service both in the field and in insulation product design to address specific application needs. We are actively working with several partners to commercialize this product to meet the evolving requirements and demands of the global industry.”

Cool stuff Cabot!  Or should we say hot stuff?  (Running out of heat-related puns…)

Stephen Steiner | January 10th, 2013 | No Comments »

Aerogel Saves Chocolate from Blowtorch!


A new video from Aerogel Technologies demonstrating the superinsulating properties of silica aerogel–a 2″x3″ silica aerogel tile protects a Hershey’s® Kiss® from the heat of a >700°C (1300°F) blowtorch!  Watch until the end when the heat is turned up all the way and melts through the aerogel, lighting the chocolate on fire!

Watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sw1tNeJ0Rw

Stephen Steiner | September 13th, 2012 | Comments Off

New Hollow-Strut Nanoporous Graphite Frameworks Break World’s Lowest Density Solid Record


The record for the world’s lightest solid material appears to have been broken yet again, and this time an advanced form of carbon takes the cake!

For those of you who missed the recent hubbub in the realm of ultralow density solids, last November, Schaedler and colleagues at HRL Laboratories, LLC (formerly Hughes Research Laboratories) published an article in the journal  Science describing an approach for making nickel “microlattices” with densities as low as 0.9 mg/cc.  The Guinness Book of World Records currently recognizes a silica aerogel with a density of 1 mg/cc made by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as the world’s lowest density solid, so obviously this is  an exciting claim!

Well move over metallic microlattices–researchers at the Hamburg University of Technology and the University of Kiel report a new kind of ultralow density hollow-strut graphite frameworks called “aerographite” with densities as low as 0.2 mg/cc–egad, that’s a vanishing 200 micrograms per cubic centimeter!  If you could scale such a material to the size of a person weighing, say, 84 kg (185 lbs), that person-sized piece of aerographite would only weigh 16.8 g (a little over half an ounce)!  The full details of the discovery are available in their June 12, 2012 article in the journal Advanced Materials.

(Before we go any further, a brief note to those of you who are wondering if these materials magically float in air given that the standard density of air is a  relatively leviathanic 1.225 mg/cc–the densities reported for these materials are the bulk densities of the lattice material sans air, that is, a hypothetical version of the material with the air sucked out.  As a result, both metallic microlattices and aerographite, like classical ultralow density aerogels, don’t float in air unless you do some parlor tricks such as backfilling the material with helium and dropping it into an aquarium filled with a dense gas such as xenon.)

Both metallic microlattices and the newly reported aerographite are elastic even in their lowest density forms, meaning they can squish and rebound, and have impressive strength properties and good electrical conductivity.  It’s important to note that not all metallic microlattices or aerographite materials are this low in density, and in fact the most useful materials are probably going to be heavier than these record-setting versions.

Thus it appears a new class of ultralow density solids, hollow-strut nanoporous frameworks (we’re calling them “HNFs”), has emerged and is demonstrating new ways of making really, really low-density materials!

For those of you interested in making aerographite yourself, we’re publishing a beta version of the experimental details under the Make section here on Aerogel.org (beta because we haven’t tested it ourselves yet).

SEM images of graphite microlattice ("aerographite") made by CVD deposition of carbon onto a ZnO powder template while the ZnO was reduced and vaporized (Hamburg University of Technology and University of Kiel)

Micro-lattice

Metallic microlattice made from nickel-phorphorous alloy on a dandelion, no longer the world's lightest solid (HRL Laboratories)

Stephen Steiner | June 16th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Contest to Win an Aerogel Disc


For those of you who have always wanted an aerogel sample disc but didn’t want to shell out $35, here’s your chance to win one!  Aerogel Technologies is sponsoring a “twitch” (Twitter pitch) competition to promote their new line of mechanically strong aerogels called Airloys (full disclosure: Aerogel Tech is the primary sponsor of this blog).  To enter, all you have to do is pitch an idea on Twitter for a (serious) real-world application that you think Airloys would be good for using the hashtags #aerogel and #airloy (both).  The tweeters of their top 10 fave ideas pitched by July 31, 2012 will each win a 1″-class aerogel sample disc!

Stephen Steiner | May 7th, 2012 | Comments Off

Cabot Aerogel Releases Cool New Aerogel Coating (Pun Intended)


Cabot Aerogel, makers of the Lumira aerogel particles used in superinsulating skylights, have just announced a cool new coating that makes it possible to touch hot steam pipes, tanks, and steel surfaces without burning your hand!  The new coating is called Aerolon and is made by Tnemec Corporation, who uses Cabot’s superinsulating fine-particle Enova aerogel to make the coating.  Designed for use in plants and refineries, the coating is painted onto hot surfaces that could easily burn you if accidentally touched.  Dr. Dhaval Doshi, Global Applications Development Leader for Cabot Aerogel, says that you can actually put your hand on the hot Aerolon-coated surface for “many seconds” without burning yourself and you instead just feel a gradual increase in heat that tells you to pull back.  This is made possible by the fact that aerogels have both low thermal conductivity and low heat capacity, that is, ability to retain heat in their nanostructure, which makes heat transfer through an aerogel coating very slow.

Oh and by the way, the coating also helps prevent heat loss out of pipes and tanks, which means that heat (and money) that would otherwise be wasted goes where it’s supposed to go.  Energy literally equals money in a refinery and, believe it or not <20% of all of the pipelines in refineries are insulated due to the cost and hassle associated with installing and maintaining insulation on the pipes.  Additionally, traditional insulation materials can trap moisture underneath them, causing the pipe to rust under the insulation (corrosion under insulation, or “CUI”).  Looks like this stuff would make insulating refineries paint-on easy?

“Cool” stuff, Cabot!  Read the press release here.

Stephen Steiner | May 7th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

Happy Aerogel Day!


Happy Aerogel Day from Aerogel.org!  Yes, March 26 is the birthday of Samuel Stephens Kistler, the inventor of aerogel.  We thought we’d honor him and his contributions to science with a holiday!

On that note, Aerogel.org is getting ready to rev up with some great new content, including long-overdue podcasts and videos!  Stay tuned.

Stephen Steiner | March 26th, 2012 | Comments Off

Aerogel on Penn and Teller Tell a Lie


Watch the amazing thermal insulating properties of aerogel protect a poor aerogel scientist from the blast of a flame thrower (or not…?) on Discovery Channel’s new skeptic-friendly science show, Penn and Teller Tell a Lie!

http://www.discovery.com/tell-a-lie

Watch the clip here:

Stephen Steiner | October 5th, 2011 | 7 Comments »

Aerogels Put the Fun in Functionalization


In preparation for an upcoming podcast with Dr. Debra Rolison from the Naval Research Laboratory, we’ve just posted a new article about functionalization and why aerogels should be thought of as palettes for making active, functional materials, not just materials destinations themselves.  Check it out!

Stephen Steiner | April 17th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

New Ultralight Multiwalled Carbon Nanotube Aerogels


Researchers lead by Dr. Lei Zhai at the University of Central Florida have fabricated a multiwalled carbon nanotube (MWNT) aerogel with an astonishing density of just four milligrams per cubic centimeter!

The work was recently published in ACS Nano and you can view the full manuscript here.

This material is particularly interesting because it is composed of a dispersion of MWNTs which leave a honeycomb structure with controllable porosity.  More-so, the aerogel has a large surface area and conducts electricity very well, but is a thermal insulator.  This is an ideal characteristic for electronics.

Notably this is not the first aerogel made from carbon nanotubes (or CNTs for short if you’re hip to the materials crowd), nor is it the first CNT-based aerogel to exhibit amazing elastic properties.  But it’s a new pathway to making CNT-based aerogels and the resulting materials are pretty cool.

Hype alert: There is a statement being circulated on the Internet that one of the MWNT aerogels these researchers made is the lowest-density aerogel (and thus solid) ever produced.  Unfortunately, this is not the case:  scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have previously produced a silica aerogel with a density of only 1.1 mg/cc, these ones here are 4 mg/cc.

So how are they made?  Here’s the gist.  Pristine MWNTs are dispersed as individual tubes in chloroform with a compound called poly(3-hexylthiophene)-b-PTMSPMA (P3HT-b-PTMSPMA) by sonicating for 13 min.  This anchors a molecule called PTMSPMA on the surface of the nanotubes. The dispersion of MWNTs then gels in several minutes to several hours depending on the concentration of MWNTs. The resulting gel is aged for 12 h at room temperature and then solvent exchanged into methanol to remove chloroform. An aqueous ammonia solution is then added to crosslink the gel for 12 h by hydrolysis and condensation of the PTMSPMA, during which time the gel shrinks a bit.  Finally methanol and ammonia are removed by exchanging the gel  into water and the gel is freeze-dried to obtain MWNT aerogels.  Note the use of freeze drying here instead of supercritical drying is possible thanks to the improved mechanical properties of the gels which make them more resistant to cracking during solvent removal.

The MWNT aerogels are impressively strong in compression and extremely elastic (squishable) exhibiting a rapid rebound.  According to the paper, these properties, along with a high degree of porosity make the material a promising candidate for chemical and pressure sensing.

Alex Capecelatro | January 19th, 2011 | Comments Off