By Nick Gilbert
Aerogels are highly porous solids having a low density. These materials feature nanoscale pore sizes and are considered as superior insulation materials.
New flexible aerogels are 500 times stronger than earlier versions and will be used in everything from clothing insulation to building insulation. Credit: NASA
They are considered to be the lightest solid material and are called as “solid smoke.” This material holds potential for being used in refrigerators, building insulation, insulated clothing and other such products.
Earlier aerogels were made from silica. These were brittle and fragile. Presently, researchers belonging to the NASA Glenn Research Center have developed a robust form of aerogel that demonstrates 500 times better strength and mechanical properties, while preserving the low thermal conductivity of the silica aerogel. These new aerogels are made of cross-linked polyimides or polymer reinforced silica networks.
The aerogels can be produced in a flexible, thin form that allows it to be used for different types of industrial and commercial uses. Flexible aerogels may be used in insulating clothes, sleeping bags and tents to maintain warmth, and these will be lighter than conventional thermal garments. These aerogels may also be used as insulators for refrigerator walls which will lead to reduced thickness. Similarly, they can be used for pipes, buildings, and water heater tanks.
The novel material may be used as insulating material for spacesuits. NASA foresees the possibility of using flexible aerogels for spacecraft that need to reenter the Earth. The frictional heat of the Earth’s atmosphere tends to burn spacecrafts reentering the Earth and heat shields were required to prevent these spacecrafts from burning; however, such shields were quite heavy and bulky
The flexible aerogel was presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.