The most versatile material in the world may be here, and it’s going to change everything. Aerogels have been around for a while, but new innovations have made the technology even better and more useful. An aerogel is a low-density solid created through the extraction of liquid from gel using the process of supercritical drying. Most commonly, aerogels are made of silica, yet this material makes the super-light solid incredibly brittle. After years of research, scientists from NASA and other independent companies have created a new product, airloy.
‘Frozen Smoke’ translucent aerogel [Image source: In Habitat]
Combining the strength and durability of conventional plastics with the light weight, super-insulating properties seen in aerogels is what this product does so well. Part of what makes this material so promising is its ability to be engineered for the extremes. Airloys are ultra low density, .01 to .9 g/c², which makes them the lightest solids on earth. Accompanying this low density are super-insulative properties and extreme material strength. Certain polymer based airloys can be engineered to handle an excess of 20,000 times their own weight. The difference between aerogels and airloys is demonstrated best in the video below.
The super-insulative properties observed in the material are astounding scientists, and are making thin lightweight insulation materials a possibility. Not only does this material insulate against temperature, but sound as well. In fact, as an acoustic insulator, this material is 100 to 1000 times better than any other product on the market. NASA has developed a thin flexible airloy, shown below, for use in spacesuits and rocket technologies.
Flexible polymer sheet developed by NASA [Image source: Mechanical Blog]
The list of the material’s mechanical and structural capabilities goes on and on. The material can even be made transparent to allow day-light into spaces, without compromising thermal insulation. The future of the material is in the hands of engineers and designers who are continuously working to find more uses for the material. Several commercial companies already exist, there’s even a company making high quality jackets from a modified aerogel.
[Image source: airloy.com]
Further development in the technology of airloys may yield applications in large scale construction as well as integration into household goods. If you want to get your hands on it, the product is currently being sold to consumers.