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The Amazing Properties of Aerogels

The Amazing Properties of Aerogels

Imagine holding a gauzy blue block of the lightest solid material on Earth. To the naked eye, it looks like a self-contained cube of gaseous fog. To the touch, it feels like dry Jell-O. You apply a flame to this ethereal substance and, much to your surprise, your hand remains cool and comfortable. The mystery material you hold in your hand could only be an aerogel.

 

Aerogels, like many great human innovations, were first created as the result of a bet. In 1931, a chemical engineer by the name of Samuel Stephens Kistler made a friendly wager with a fellow scientist to see who could replace the liquid component of a gel with a gas without causing the structure of the gel to collapse. Kistler first succeeded in creating aerogels by employing supercritical drying processes to remove the liquid component of silica gel.

 

The end result was truly remarkable. Kistler’s aerogel was a gel in name only. In fact, its structure was composed of 98% air, and only 2% solid silica. Later, Kistler was able to produce similar results by using other substances such as alumina and tin dioxide as substitutes for the silica.

 

So what can we do with aerogels?

 

We can create lightweight jackets that insulate so well that they have to be vented in order to keep a person from overheating in freezing temperatures. We can purify water by using aerogels to absorb heavy metals. We can use them as a controlled dosage drug delivery system. We can even capture the dust from the tail of a comet in their pores.

 

NASA was the chief patron of aerogel technology for much of the twentieth century, but in recent years aerogel applications have spread to a number of other earthbound industries.

 

The world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, employs aerogels to insulate the mammoth structure. The US Navy has been experimenting with aerogels to produce next generation wetsuits for its divers. Carbon aerogels have even been used as an electrode material in supercapacitors.

 

We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for aerogel technologies. Over the course of their 80 year history, they’ve evolved from scientific curiosities to versatile industrial materials with a myriad of practical applications.

 

Want to learn more about the latest advances in thermal technology? Stay tuned for more updates from HTS Amptek!

The High Performance Insulation Market is Booming

The High Performance Insulation Market is Booming

According to a recent report from research firm Markets and Markets, the worldwide high performance insulation market is projected to balloon into a $6 billion industry by 2020. Currently, North American consumers comprise the epicenter of market growth, accounting for over half of the global market.

 

Next-generation insulating materials such as aerogels, ceramic fiber, and glass bubble insulators which were once relegated to space programs and experimental laboratory applications are now being employed in other well-established industries, driving the demand for these materials to unexpected heights.

 

According to the report, the oil industry is the currently the foremost consumer of high performance insulation materials. The fastest growth rates in the next five years are expected to come from construction and automotive industries. Automotive companies, in particular, stand to benefit from the improved acoustic performance and lightweight properties of these new insulating materials.

 

Aerogels are projected to see the highest increase in consumption. By virtue of their remarkable insulating capabilities, relatively low cost of production, and the abundant availability of their constituent raw materials, aerogels stand out as the most promising new high performance insulation materials. Meanwhile, the oil & gas is continuing to drive the demand for gas bubble insulation products.

 

At HTS Amptek, we employ the latest, most efficient insulating materials available whenever possible in the design and manufacture of our products. We carry a diverse line of reliable, durable heating and insulation products designed to accommodate a variety of applications. Give us a call today to learn more.