Architectural Innovation and Energy Savings Could Result from Super-insulator Breakthrough


Image credit: Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS

Aerogel was invented in 1931. But at $3000 per kilogram, it's use has been limited to visionary projects and unique structural applications like reinforcement of tennis raquets. But that could change soon. Halimaton Hamdan, a Cambridge-trained professor of chemistry at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (Technical University of Malaysia), has announced the discovery of a cheap process for turning waste rice husks into aerogel. Actually into "Maerogel", as Hamdan has dubbed the "Malaysian aerogel".The translucent, smoky material weighs only three times as much as air. It is, in fact, mostly air; air cleverly trapped in a silicon matrix which gives the material insulating properties 37 times better than fiberglass. The image demonstrates the insulating capability as a layer of aerogel prevents a blowtorch from burning the hand below.

Aerogel can also bear mechanical pressure of up to 2000 times its weight. The combination of low weight and strength make aerogel a multifaceted green construction material. As a coating for walls, the insulation could greatly reduce energy needs for air conditioning or heating. Thin layers verge on complete transparency, so aerogel sandwiched between panes of glass could achieve extremely energy efficient windows.

TreeHugger talked to a colleague of Hamdan, Dr. Dieter Freude of the University of Leipzig, who was quoted calling Hamdan's work "an exciting breakthrough". Freude confirms that the Hamdan's work shows great promise. He points out that knowledge of the possibility to purify a high quality silicon from rice husks pre-exists Hamdan's breakthrough. The true achievement in Hamdan's work is her goal-oriented translation of research into process development. Freude notes that it is not common in Malaysian universities for academics to develop processes for commercial application.

But this is where the excitement starts. Hamdan has had great success with processes at a small-scale pilot level. Hamdan has now received US$62.5 million in funding from the Malaysian government to demonstrate her process on a large scale. Hamdan expects that aerogel, or Maerogel, from her process will cost one-fifth as much as by conventional production methods. And, of course, there will always be plenty more rice husks.

Aerogel elsewhere in TreeHugger:
Greenshift Invests in Aerogel
Aerogel Roofing
Aerogel Walls, Japanese Style
Aerogel Building Design

Via tipster Syawal and ::IHT

Related Content on