Technological assessment of aerogels – possible applications and consequences of the use of aerogels as new insulating materials

Aerogels are new transparent insulating materials which have recently (1995) come onto the market. Because of their outstanding insulating properties they are extremely interesting in ecological terms. For this reason the Ministry of the Environment commissioned a study in 1992 of possible areas of application and ecological potential. Based on scientific literature, patent and company information, technical manuals, environmental audits, a written survey of companies and numerous interviews with experts, a study was made of the technological, ecological and economic aspects of the development status and potential of the different types of aerogels.

The first result was to distinguish between two types of aerogels: panel-shaped transparent ones, and granular, translucent (but not transparent) ones. The former, thanks to their good insulating effect and solar energy transmittance, set new ecological standards as window insulating materials in housing. Because of difficulties in technological development, the relatively high price, and potential acceptance problems owing to the yellowish light, it is questionable whether they will be widely used. By contrast, the development of daylight elements with granular, translucent aerogels for use in roof-lights has already proceeded to the marketing stage. The ecological values are better than those of heat-insulating glass used previously, but not as good as those of panel-shaped aerogels. They are, however, much cheaper. Because of the savings compared with comparable glazing, the architectural advantages and the successful development to date, a market launch is highly likely. Preparations were already being made in 1995.

Owing to their high price, panel-shaped aerogels do not have much potential as a non-translucent insulating material. Granular aerogels will also be used only on a restricted scale – for example, in areas where the design allows very little space for heat insulation but where effective insulation is nevertheless required. A typical example of this would be sections of refrigerators (such as corners) that are difficult to insulate.

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Duration

01/1994 - 12/1994

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