UB engineer awarded $1.8 million to develop aerogel insulation

From left to right, seated at a table, are Chi Zhou (UB), Shenqiang Ren (UB), Mark Swihart (UB), and Donghui Zhao (Unifrax).

Members of the research team, from left to right: Chi Zhou, Shenqiang Ren, Mark Swihart and Donghui Zhao.

The material could help reduce utility bills, improve energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings

Release Date: March 27, 2019

Shenqiang Ren

Shenqiang Ren

“It’s a great example of how federal investment can play a role in the development of potentially groundbreaking technologies that benefit all corners of society. This grant also continues to recognize and reinforce UB’s standing as a leading research institute.”
Rep. Brian Higgins
NY-26

BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo researcher Shenqiang Ren has been awarded a $1,875,000 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to develop a new, inexpensive insulating material that could be used in homebuilding, space travel and other areas.

The grant, awarded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), is one of 19 projects announced last month by the agency.

“This $1.8 million federal funding grant from the Department of Energy will be critical in assisting with research on this innovative and exciting new material. It’s a great example of how federal investment can play a role in the development of potentially groundbreaking technologies that benefit all corners of society. This grant also continues to recognize and reinforce UB’s standing as a leading research institute,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.

The awards are intended to “drive innovation in early-stage research and development for advanced building technologies and systems that will serve as a foundation for future technological developments and reductions in building energy consumption. These technologies will improve the efficiency of our nation’s buildings and will help American consumers and businesses save energy and money on their utility bills,” according to a DOE news release.

“Technological innovations enable energy-efficiency advances in the buildings sector, providing a tremendous opportunity to reduce energy waste and costs — boosting the competitiveness of U.S. companies and easing energy bills for American families,” said David Nemtzow, director of DOE’s Building Technologies Office.

Ren, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and UB’s RENEW Institute.

He will lead a research team that includes:

  • Mark Swihart, PhD, UB Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
  • Chi Zhou, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
  • Chris Janson, business development executive at UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.
  • Donghui Zhao, PhD, manager of materials research at Unifrax I LLC in Tonawanda.
  • Mauricio Souza, PhD, global director of Melting and Fiberization Center of Excellence at Unifrax I LLC in Tonawanda.
  • Jason Armstrong, PhD, teaching associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, will participate in mechanical testing.
  • Tapecon Inc. is a consultant on the project.

The team will use the award to reduce the cost of producing silica aerogel, a synthetic gel with low thermal conductivity. Having low thermal conductivity makes it an effective insulator.

“Anywhere you have insulation, from houses and space vehicles to pipelines and clothing, there is potential for aerogels to improve performance,” Ren said. “The drawback is that’s it often too expensive for large-scale adoption.”

For most aerogels, there is a long and expensive supercritical drying process. Ren and colleagues are developing a different, ambient-pressure drying approach. It’s simpler, quicker, less expensive and more eco-friendly because water is the main solvent instead of toxic chemicals, Ren said.

Media Contact Information

Cory Nealon
Director of News Content
Engineering, Computer Science
Tel: 716-645-4614
cmnealon@buffalo.edu
Twitter: @UBengineering