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Better Insulation with Aerogels

Eric Miller PHYS 307 01 April 2011

Windows are Bad for the Environment


Windows are a major source of heat loss: up to 30% (http://www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca) Most of insulating properties come from the trapped air layer (glass has high conductance) Air layer limited in size by convection & radiation What if we could stop the air from moving? => Aerogels!

Aerogel: what is it?


Low-density solid matrix of silicon dioxide SiO2(sand) Gel with liquid replaced with gas High porosity (up to 97% air by volume) Good compression strength Fragile (consistency of styrofoam) Hydroscopic (absorbs water) Transparent: exhibits Rayleigh scattering (even though the particles are much denser packed than in a gas); index of refraction lower than any other solid First created 1931

How is it made?
Dissolve tetraethyl silicate in ethanol Condenses into colloidal silica (hair gel consistency) (use acid or base [HCl] as a catalyst to speed up rxn)

Particles joined by siloxane bonds Cant just dry normally to remove liquid: surface tension at phase boundary would damage structure Replace ethanol with acetone & then liquid CO2, then use supercritical drying: high heat & pressure to get above critical point

Applications:
Target shells for laser-based inertial confinement fusion (LLNL) NASA dust collector target Radiation detectors for subatomic particles Substrate/base for a catalyst in reactions (high surface area) Window insulation!

Insulation

R=

UNBC: over 7000 windows! (est. 21,330m2) Compare double-pane window (3mm glass, 19mm air gap) with aerogel window (3mm glass, 20mm aerogel)

x 3mm 20mm 5 + = 2 (1.1W / K m)(21,330m 2 ) (0.019W / K m)(21,330m 2 ) = 4.96 10 K / W kA

T2 T1 22o C (10o C ) q= = = 645kW Rtot 4.96 10 5 K / W

For air-based window R = 3.59x10-5K/W, q=892kW ie, aerogel saves 247kW ($57,000/semester with electric heat @ $0.08/kWh) Can do even better! Material Thermal Conductivity k (W/m*K) No convection => increase thickness Fill voids with different gas (0.011W/m.K) Glass Air Aerogel 1.1 0.025 0.019 (silica, 1982) 0.004

Insulation
Light Transmittance: can we still see out?

Problems
Processing time: reaction proceeds slowly (over a day w/o catalyst) Particles grow nonuniformly (thermal properties & aesthetics) - use base instead of acid catalyst: less shrinking & more transparent - grow in space: zero-G gives more uniform particles Aerogel is hydroscopic; absorbing water leads to breakdown =>must be well sealed Expensive: ~$5 for 1cm cube (due to processing)

M. Rubin, C. Lampert. Transparent silica aerogels for window insulation, Solar Energy Materials, 7, 393400 (1983). http://www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/residential/personal/newhomes/r-2000/standard/high-perf-windows.cfm?attr=4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerogel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercritical_drying