Silica Aerogel for an Energy Efficient Home

Titiksha Singh and Donald Petit

Measuring the thickness of an aerogel sample.

Measuring the thickness of an aerogel sample.

Graduate Student Project

Introduction

Have you ever thought how much energy is lost through the walls of your house and how it aggravates climate change?

My name is Titiksha Singh and I am a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering at the University at Buffalo. This past fall, with Professor Shenqiang Ren as my mentor and a graduate student as my partner, I conducted research on the production of Silica Aerogel to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and take a step towards fighting climate change.

As we will see, Silica aerogel proves to be a very efficient thermal insulator then why is not being used on a large scale to prevent the loss of heat through our houses especially in colder regions like upstate New York?

Abstract

The porous structure of aerogel is a result of how compounds known as surfactants react in water. Another important factor in the porous structure of aerogel is the drying process which allows the aerogel to maintain its structure after the initial reaction is done. This process is called supercritical drying which is very expensive to do on a large scale making it difficult to use in the commercial market. 

In order to reduce the production cost of aerogel in the lab we are using ambient drying process. We are doing ambient drying in an oven at a constant temperature and pressure. To ensure the thermal conductivity is kept at extremely low levels we examine how surfactants, organic compounds, and acids react in water. These aspects are examined in order to control the pore size of the aerogel. The pore size is vital towards making sure that the aerogel is lightweight and has low conductivity. The effects of these chemicals are examined through SEM, TEM imaging. Reducing the cost of aerogel allows for it to be brought into the commercial market by using it as a replacement to drywall used residential homes. In order to do that we have to make sure that the mechanical and thermal properties of aerogel match or surpass drywall. In order to make sure that this aerogel works in high humidity conditions, the aerogel was made hydrophobic to deal with these conditions. Insulating fiber such as fiberglass insulation is being combined with our aerogel in order to improve mechanical and thermal properties of the aerogel. We examine how to combine fiberglass reacts if it used in the reaction in order to see if the fibers bond with the solid matrix during the reaction.

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