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Aerogels are a diverse class of ultralow density, nanoporous solid foams with impressive insulating capabilities, ultrahigh strength-to-weight ratios, and many other amazing materials properties. Aerogels are best known for being the world’s best thermally insulating materials, which is why superinsulating blankets are made with aerogel. They are also the world’s lightest solid materials, and mechanically robust aerogels such as Airloy® Ultramaterials are now being used as ultralight replacements to plastics. Aerogels also exhibit incredibly high internal surface area—in fact, a typical piece of aerogel the size of an ice cube has about half a football field’s worth of surface area wrapped up inside its pores. This makes electrically conductive aerogels such as carbon aerogels particularly interesting as electrodes for batteries, supercapacitors, and desalination systems.
There is so much more to be said about aerogels that we recommend you visit Aerogel.org. There you will find an encyclopedic reference about aerogels, how they’re made, and what they’re are used for.
Aerogels are generally available in three form factors:
- Monoliths (shaped, block-type forms)
Monolithic aerogel or monoliths are continuous solid materials with a defined shape. This includes the ethereal blue “NASA-type” silica aerogel people typically think about when they hear the word “aerogel”. Monoliths include aerogel discs, blocks, spheres, cubes, cylinders, rods, etc.
Aerogel particles include millimeter-sized granules, which are used in skylights to allow light to diffuse through but not heat, and micron-sized particles, which are used as performance additives for insulative coatings, safety coatings, and matte finish coatings.
Aerogel composite blankets are the most common type of insulation made with aerogels and are composed of woven or non-woven fibers coated or embedded with aerogel. These materials can be rolled, cut, and sewn and offer three to five times better thermal performance than other insulating materials.
Monolithic aerogels are shaped aerogel forms such as discs, blocks, spheres, cubes, cylinders, rods, etc. (The term has little to do with the Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
Not anymore. Aerogels were once only produced by universities, national laboratories, and NASA, and so they used to be very expensive to make and very hard to get. Today aerogels are mass-produced by companies such as Aerogel Technologies, Aspen Aerogels, and Cabot Aerogel and are now affordable for applications ranging from home insulation to skylights to consumer electronics. In fact, in the case of insulating blankets, aerogel blankets offer three times the insulating ability of conventional insulating materials in some cases at less than three times the cost per unit area while also providing numerous multifunctional advantages such as being waterproof and preventing corrosion of pipes underneath the insulation (a phenomenon called CUI), so for many applications, aerogel materials can actually be less expensive than conventional materials.
The term “aerogel” is used to refer to any of a number of different materials that may differ greatly in composition, form, density, and functionality. Most aerogel blankets, particles, and monoliths are based on silica aerogel, which is comprised of synthetic amorphous silica. As a substance, synthetic amorphous silica has been found to not be harmful to humans—it is non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. Monolithic aerogels such as those found here on BuyAerogel.com are generally safe to handle and experiment with. Aerogel particles and blankets may generate nuisance dust when handled and so appropriate protective gear such as safety glasses, gloves, and a dust mask are recommended when handling these types of products. For non-silica aerogel materials, the aerogel form is, in general, as safe as the material(s) upon which the aerogel is based, keeping in mind that particulate forms of any material can potentially present respiratory hazards. For more information about a particular aerogel product, please consult the materials safety data sheet (MSDS) contact us.
Aerogels are a diverse class of materials and so different products have different strength and toughness profiles.
Aerogel blankets, for example, are flexible, resilient, and withstand the force of being handled and stepped on, however may shed some dust in the process.
Monolithic aerogels such as Classic Silica™ aerogels have incredibly high strength-to-weight ratios but often exhibit low fracture toughness and so they tend to be very fragile. That said, monolithic aerogels can withstand several thousand times their weight in applied force if applied compressively and gently.
Airloy™ Ultramaterials such as Airloy X103 are the strongest aerogels available and are mechanically robust and non-brittle. They are strong enough to be used in many applications where plastics and composites are used today but are three to fifteen times lighter than typical engineering materials. Airloys can be machined, drilled, tapped, flexed, and, in some cases, thermoformed.
Aerogel particles exhibit strength and toughness properties similar to monolithic aerogels, however with such small dimensions they pour and handle just like other particulate materials. Aerogel particles are strong in compression and can withstand vacuum as well as the compressive forces exerted on them when packed tightly into, for example, a double-pane skylight.
Since many monolithic aerogels tend to be very fragile, we recommend you follow the following guidelines to prevent damaging your specimen:
- Don’t pinch or poke the aerogel
- If your sample is water-sensitive (such as Classic Silica™ aerogels) make sure your hands are dry and sweat-free before handling (you can also wear gloves)
- Handle the sample by gently dumping the specimen out of its container into your hand
- Pass the sample by carefully dumping from hand to hand
- If you absolutely must pinch the sample to grab it, do so as gently as possible and avoid squeezing the sample
- Don’t drop the sample
- If your sample is water-sensitive, do not contact the sample with water
- If your sample is hydrophobic, do not contact the sample with non-polar substances such as oil or solvents
- Store the sample in a dry environment at room temperature
Yes. Carbon aerogels are electrically conductive. Other electrically conductive aerogels include metal aerogels, nanotube aerogels, and graphene aerogels. Silica aerogels and other oxide-based aerogels are generally electrically insulating.
Please see our selection of cut-to-size bulk aerogel superinsulating blankets for partial and full rolls of aerogel insulation.
Sorry, aerogels, like other materials, do break if not handled properly and we cannot replace broken monoliths. Please see the handling FAQ above our shipping and returns policies for more information.
Yes, BuyAerogel.com happily ships to destinations all over the world. Just select your destination country at checkout and we’ll take care of the rest. For questions regarding international shipping, please see our shipping and return policies.
Please contact us for custom aerogel shape, composition, and size inquiries.
We’ve worked hard to make aerogels affordable for everyone, including educators. While we can’t provide free materials, write us with your story and we’ll see what we can do.
BuyAerogel.com offers a wide range of affordable aerogel samples available for on-demand purchase and offers discount pricing for bulk quantities. While we cannot provide free samples, we are always happy to help you find an aerogel material that fits your budget and meets your applications needs.
Do you sell specialty aerogels such as metal aerogels, carbon nanotube aerogels, chalcogels, and graphene aerogels?
Please contact us for custom aerogel shape, composition, and size inquiries.