Space-Age Tech Coming to a Building Near You: Aerogel as Insulation

aerogel nasa jpl photo

Photo: Peter Tsou at NASA's JPL, Public domain.
Frozen Smoke in My Walls
Aerogel, also known as Frozen Smoke, is quite an interesting material. It has the lowest bulk density of any known porous solid, it is mostly transparent but feels a bit like Styrofoam to the touch, and it has remarkable thermal insulation properties (NASA has used it on the Mars Rover and space suits -- "Aerogel is a fantastic insulator -- if you had a shield of aerogel, you could easily defend yourself from a flamethrower."). But so far, it has always been too expensive for large scale uses... And that might be changing.

Photo: Aspen Aerogels
Aspen Aerogels has started selling aerogel blankets for use as insulation in buildings.

"Aspen Aeorgels says that its Spaceloft blankets have two to four times the insulating value per inch compared to fiberglass or foam. It's also relatively easy to work with, allows water vapor to pass through, and is fire resistant--a common demonstration of aerogels is to have a person fire a Bunsen burner below the aerogel while putting a hand on the top side." (source)

The fact that it's just 2 to 4 times better than fiberglass or foam makes me think that they paid a pretty big performance price to bring costs down, since pure aerogel would provider higher thermal insulation, but it's still a pretty big step in the right direction. We're not talking about a few percent improvement. Over time, in a big building, this could represent a lot of heat that would otherwise leak out (or heat that would leak in when the air conditioning is on).

Other companies that are coming out with more affordable aerogel derivatives to be used as building insulation are Cabot and Thermablok.

I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years (or decades at most) very high-quality aerogel was used almost everywhere for insulation. Unless we make something even better, that is.

Trivia: According to Wikipedia, "Aerogel was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, as a result of a bet with Charles Learned over who could replace the liquid in 'jellies' with gas without causing shrinkage."

Via CNET, Reddit
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