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.

When Stardust Launched NASA Had No Way to Extract Particles from Aerogel


Amusing story on Popsci.com–when NASA launched its Stardust probe, the satellite that followed comet Wild-2 (say “Vilt-Too”) and captured its comet dust with a “catcher’s mitt” made of aerogel, they had no way to extract the comet particles from the aerogel.  Silica aerogels like the ones used on the Stardust probe are extremely brittle and machining it using normal techniques causes it to fracture unpredictably.  I can corroborate this–at one point before Stardust returned, NASA reached out to me personally (as they did many aerogel researchers) to ask if I had any experience cutting aerogels!  All’s well that ends well–the ingenious team at NASA developed a method using a high-frequency vibrating microscopic needle to extract the comet particles from the aerogel in time to make use of the samples that were returned, making Stardust one of the most successful sample return missions of all time.

We had the chance to sit down for a podcast several years ago with the mission’s PI, NASA JPL’s Dr. Peter Tsou.  Listen to the amazing story of Stardust here.

Stephen Steiner | August 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Update on Aspen Aerogels IPO


Just a quick update from NYSE-Euronext on the Aspen Aerogels IPO–looks like Aspen Aerogels is planning on raising $115M, offering 6.7M shares at a price of $14-$16/share.

Read more about it here.

 

Stephen Steiner | June 6th, 2014 | No Comments »

Google Nexus 7 Body Made from Aerogel


For everyone who still thinks aerogels are blue and brittle, think again!  The engineers at Aerogel Technologies have recently released a video of an ultralight Google Nexus 7 body made out of a mechanically strong aerogel called Airloy X103-H.  In the video, they compare the back panel of the Nexus 7, composed of ABS/PC composite (that’s acrylonitrile butadiene styrene/polycarbonate composite, the standard non-descript plastic used to make laptop bodies and other consumer electronics) weighing in at 42 g, and the same panel made out of Airloy X103-H, weighing in at only 18 g. And this isn’t 1980′s aerogel either–it’s strong, somewhat flexible, and feels like plastic.  Take a look!

Stephen Steiner | June 6th, 2014 | No Comments »

Aspen Aerogels Files for IPO


Exciting news in the aerogel industry! Aspen Aerogels, the world’s leading manufacturer of aerogel insulation, has filed for an initial public offering of its common stock.  Aspen, which expects to trade under the stock symbol “ASPN” on the New York Stock Exchange, is looking to raise a maximum of $86.25M with this initial offering.  Aspen’s aerogel blankets are unparalleled in the industry and are widely recognized as the world’s best thermal insulation next to vacuum insulating panels, however unlike VIPs Aspen’s blankets aren’t susceptible to popping, are flexible, and can be easily cut and sewn.  Aspen’s products include Pyrogel XT-E, a flexible high-temperature insulating blanket used to insulate pipelines in refineries, Cryogel Z, a superinsulating blanket used for cryogenic tanks, and Spaceloft, a superinsulating blanket used for building and construction.   Spaceloft, for example, has an R-value greater than 9.5 per inch, making it over three times better insulating per unit thickness than fiberglass and almost two times better insulating than polyurethane foam. This isn’t the first time Aspen’s filed for an IPO.  Aspen originally filed for an IPO on June 24, 2011 with the intent of raising $115M on the NASDAQ exchange, later retracted the filing, possibly due to an unfortunate coincident global downturn in construction.  However, with the economy recovering and Aspen’s products being increasingly adopted, now is the perfect time for an Aspen IPO.  Aspen reports that 24 of the world’s top 25 refineries use their products, an economic case that is not hard to understand.  Incredibly, today only 20% of pipelines in refineries are insulated–in an industry where energy = $ this is a pretty astounding figure!  The reason being, however, is that traditional insulation is very difficult to install and maintain.  Fiberglass, for example, entrains moisture underneath causing corrosion of the underlying pipe (corrosion under insulation or CUI) and can be easily damaged when walked on.  Aspen’s products are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water, eliminating CUI.  Additionally, their materials are quite sturdy and resistant to compression, and, unlike foams, don’t crush and lose their insulating ability when walked on.

Aspen won’t be the only public company manufacturing aerogels–Cabot Corporation (NYSE:CBT) also manufactures aerogel materials in both particle and insulating blanket form.  Cabot’s and Aspen’s products are quite different, however, and provide complementary functions for different applications.  Regardless, with Aspen joining the ranks of other publicly-traded companies, it is an exciting time for the commercialization of aerogel.

Read the S-1 filing hereTry Aspen’s products out yourself here.

Stephen Steiner | April 28th, 2014 | No Comments »

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 »