What is Aerogel?

Aerogel is the most amazing thermal insulator you’ve never heard of. It was first developed back in the 1930s and improved upon ever since for some incredible results.

This material is made by first creating a gel and then taking all of the liquid out of that gel to just leave the solid lattice structure behind. This lattice is an extremely fine nanostructure that can be comprised of a variety of glass, metal, plastic, or even organic materials. All of which offer different properties.

Why is it such a good insulator?

Well, there are three different types of heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation. Most basically, conduction is from a solid touching a solid, convection is from interaction with fluids (liquids and gasses), and radiation requires no physical medium at all but rather transfers heat energy through photons (think sunlight traveling through space or infrared heaters keeping your french fries warm). Conduction requires more surface area of contact to be effective. Since aerogel is constructed of a nanostructure lattice, there are only extremely narrow pathways for conduction to occur. Conductive heat transfer is nearly stopped in its tracks. Convection requires fluid movement to be the most effective. For example, think of how much cooler the room feels with a fan running. Since this lattice is so small and tight, the movement of air through it is severely inhibited so that the gas particles are essentially trapped.

Aerogels have become fairly common in industrial applications to insulate everything from oil pipelines in Siberia to space shuttles in well… outer space.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay 

They’re even used in ski jackets. For many of these, it isn’t practical to have “solid” blocks of aerogel placed around pipes and bulkheads. Rather, these materials are integrated into woven blanket which can be somewhat flexibly formed around other shapes. These are most effective when they’re moved less as movement tends to break apart the lattice structure and degrade the insulating properties over time. That’s one big drawback of aerogels. Their mechanical strength and durability leave much to be desired. In applications where a lot of movement or fatigue are occurring, aerogels will not perform at their highest potential.

If you’re looking for an ultimate insulator in your product, consider aerogels. The stuff you’ve never heard of might be just the solution you need.

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