Aerogel- The Future of Insulation

Figure 1: 1″ thick Aerogel insulating from blowtorch [5]

Recent developments in Aerogel technology have made this material a promising alternative for insulation, promising to save thousands of dollars as buildings reduce their energy expenditure for heating and cooling. These Aerogels are nothing like gel, like its name suggests, rather- they receive their name from their raw material – gels, that are then extracted of all liquid through a process called supercritical drying. The resulting solid is the world’s least dense solid, with a density of 5 kg/ m^3, which is only three times more than air in spite of being a solid.

As a result of this low density, Aerogels have an extremely low heat transfer coefficient ranging from .016 to .03 W/m K compared to the leading competitor, Fiberglass, with a heat transfer coefficient of .04 W/m K . [1] Also, Aerogel takes low amounts of energy to produce, which means that overall it doesn’t have a significant manufacturing impact on the environment. Studies have shown that it is very effective in reducing energy costs for buildings, such as a “62% reduction in heat losses, with a 17% reduction in light transmittance” in windows that previously used double glaze and low e- coating, an already efficient technology. [3]

Furthermore, prohibitive prices used to limit the amount of Aerogel that used to be installed in buildings. Recent advances in Aerogel technology have reduced the price significantly, and a new process by Swedish manufacturer Svenska Aerogel could further reduce the price by 90%. [2] Also, the Department of Energy has recognized the potential in this technology and has assisted a manufacturer, Aspen Aerogels, in reducing the energy cost of production by 25%. This move can be seen as support by a United States government body, which means that policy enacted by the United States in favor of this technology might benefit the adoption of Aerogels in new buildings and retrofitting [4].

All in all, we will have to see whether Aerogel manufacturers deliver on their promises to reduce the price of Aerogel to bring about a new standard of affordable and energy efficient building construction.

References

1) http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/aerogel_factsheet.pdf

2)http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/aerogels-to-drop-by-90-percent-in-price

3) http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/science/article/pii/S0306261912002826

4)http://energy.gov/articles/saving-energy-and-money-aerogel-insulation

5)http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/styles/article_hero/public/AspenAerogels_Flame-3.jpg?itok=XOGQCuXw

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One response to “Aerogel- The Future of Insulation

  1. It’s a very nice post. The energy consumption has became an very important aspect for green building design which also includes indoor environmental quality, material use, water management and site planning. And building energy consumption is also an important consideration of LEED program. Now, the concept of sustainability is shaping the future of buildings, and the key to reduce the building energy consumption is to isolate it to reduce energy loss for heating and cooling. Most energy is lost through the conduction of roofs and walls, and, therefore, finding the right material to isolate the walls is the key. Batts and blankets, made of fiberglass and rock wool, are commonly used for insulation now. However, the main health hazard is present during installation and comes from inhaling short fibers. Other technology including loose fill, foamed-in-place and insulation boards are also applied. I guess this new material, aerogel, could be a promising alternative due to its properties of low-density, inability to transfer heat, cheap to build, and lower environmental impact. Hope to see this new product soon in the market, and thanks for sharing this information.

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