Aerogel is no longer the world’s lightest material , but retains the reputation of a literally space-age material.Besides having been used to collect samples of a comet in space , airgel is extremely lightweight and is an excellent thermal insulator.The big problem that kept him away from applications in day-to-day, is that the traditional airgel is also very fragile.But this problem has just been solved by Mary Ann Meador and Haiquan Guo, researchers at the Glenn Research Center, NASA. The pair developed a new type of airgel that, plus a lot tougher, is flexible, allowing its use for insulation in homes, refrigerators and even in winter clothing and outerwear.
The original airgel was made of silica or silicon oxide, a mineral found in beach sand, for example.More recently, scientists fabricated versions of airgel carbon nanotubes and even a diamond airgel .The NASA scientists have used a polymer to make a change in the internal structure of silica airgel, strengthening the crystal lattice of the material.
The researchers also manufactured a version of airgel entirely polymeric, using polyimide, a type of plastic very strong and heat resistant.Were manufactured aerogels with densities from 0.08 to 0.2 g / cm3 .While the traditional airgel temperatures up to 100 º C, airgel polymer supports up to 400 º C.
“The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than equivalent silica,” she said. “A chunk can actually support the weight of a car. Airgel flexible and can be made very thin, flexible film so that one makes possible a wide variety of industrial and commercial uses”.
Shields spatial and refrigerators
The researcher added that NASA is interested in initially to build flexible airgel shells reentry into the atmosphere, which must withstand high temperatures.Here below, however, uses will be more basic, as in refrigerators, since the flexible airgel is 5 to 10 times more efficient than the insulators used today based on glass fiber.Other applications include coating of the heating pipes, buildings, tanks, and any other device that requires heat insulation.