Thinner Aerogel Is 500 Times Stronger
August 20, 2012

Thin, More Flexible Aerogel Material Unveiled

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An enhanced version of the world's lightest solid material, said to be as much as 500 times stronger than its predecessors, was unveiled during a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on Sunday.

The substance, a new flexible aerogel, replaces traditional silica-based types of the solid insulating material, the organization said in an August 19 announcement.

Traditional aerogels are brittle, easy to break, and prone to crumbling, Dr. Mary Ann B. Meador explained, leading experts to develop a more durable and versatile version of the material.

"The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than their silica counterparts," Meador said. "A thick piece actually can support the weight of a car. And they can be produced in a thin form, a film so flexible that a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses are possible."

The more flexible aerogels could have many uses. They could be used to help develop insulated clothes, tents, or sleeping bags that allow people to withstand cold temperatures beyond that found in modern thermal type garments. Furthermore, it could also be used to insulate the insides of refrigerator or freezer units, which would reduce the amount of space needed for cold-producing technology and increase food storage area.

"Meador said that the aerogel is 5-10 times more efficient than existing insulation, with a quarter-inch-thick sheet providing as much insulation as 3 inches of fiberglass," the ACS said. "And there could be multiple applications in thin-but-high-efficiency insulation for buildings, pipes, water heater tanks and other devices."

NASA is also said to be exploring a number of different uses for the aerogel technology, including as a heat shield for re-entry vehicles, or a material used to help insulate astronauts' spacesuits. However, the ACS says that the aerogel has a 575 degrees Fahrenheit temperature limit, meaning that it likely could not be used by firefighters, who require protection from more extreme heat than that.

"Scientists produced the stronger new aerogels in two ways," the organization said. "One involved making changes in the innermost architecture of traditional silica aerogels. They used a polymer, a plastic-like material, to reinforce the networks of silica that extend throughout an aerogel's structure."

"Another involved making aerogels from polyimide, an incredibly strong and heat-resistant polymer, or plastic-like material, and then inserting brace-like cross-links to add further strength to the structure," they added.