Tech

Aerogel and how use it to save energy

Aerogel is a highly effective insulating material that has been used in various applications, but it remains relatively unknown and expensive for building insulation. However, with energy efficiency becoming more important, it could play a bigger role in the construction and retrofit industries. Despite its high cost, a 10mm layer of aerogel insulation can reduce heat loss through walls by two-thirds. It is best suited for features of a building that act as thermal bridges, and can also be useful for insulating floors. While alternatives exist, aerogel may be worth the investment for specific applications. Regardless of the insulation material used, addressing thermal bridges is crucial in reducing heat loss in buildings.

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Aerogel, known as the most effective insulating material in science, has been used in various applications such as on Mars rovers, water filtration, and potentially in nuclear warheads. However, it remains a lesser-known and expensive option for insulation in buildings despite being used in strips and panels for decades. With energy efficiency becoming increasingly important and poorly insulated British houses, aerogel could find a bigger role in the construction and retrofit industries. Aerogel was invented by two US chemical engineers in the late 1920s or early 1930s by removing liquid from a silica gel substance, creating an ultralight, highly porous structure.

Aerogel is an extremely lightweight material with a low-density foam structure containing microscopic pores that make up around 99% air. Despite its ethereal appearance, it is an excellent insulator due to its intricate structure and large volume of air. Aerogel insulation has been used in a variety of buildings, such as a former church in Belfast, a building in London, and a banker’s residence in Switzerland. Enviroform, a company in Northern Ireland, supplies aerogel insulation made by Aspen Aerogels in the US, which combines silica aerogel with a reinforcing fiber in a blanket-like composite. With energy efficiency becoming increasingly important, aerogel could become a more widely used option in the construction and retrofit industries.

Aspen Aerogels, a US-based company, produces aerogel insulation by combining silica aerogel with a reinforcing fibre in a blanket-like composite. Enviroform, a Northern Ireland-based company, supplies aerogel insulation made by Aspen Aerogels in the UK. It is an expensive option, costing roughly £50 per sq m, making it about five times as expensive as the equivalent 30mm rigid board insulation. However, a 10mm layer of aerogel insulation fixed to a property’s walls can reduce heat loss through those walls by two-thirds. Aerogel insulation is best suited for features of a building that threaten to act as thermal bridges, such as heat-conducting metal posts around a window unit, aluminum door or window frames, or steel beams. It might also be useful for insulating floors where digging up or disturbing an existing floor would be too disruptive.

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According to Dr Kaufmann, while there are alternatives to aerogel insulation, such as vacuum insulation panels, they may be more rigid, fragile, and not significantly cheaper. Although the cost of aerogel insulation is high, it can be a worthwhile investment for specific applications where space is at a premium, or to prevent thermal bridges that contribute to heat loss and condensation issues. Aerogel insulation is still a small part of the insulation market, but as awareness grows, it may become a more widely used option. Regardless of the insulation material used, addressing thermal bridges is crucial as they can account for up to 30% of heat loss in a building.

In conclusion, aerogel insulation may be expensive, but it is a highly effective option for reducing heat loss and preventing thermal bridges in buildings. With energy efficiency becoming increasingly important, it could become a more widely used option in the construction and retrofit industries. While alternatives to aerogel insulation exist, they may not be significantly cheaper or as effective. As awareness grows and specific applications arise, aerogel insulation may become a more accessible and practical solution. Ultimately, addressing thermal bridges is crucial for reducing heat loss and maximizing energy efficiency in buildings, regardless of the insulation material used.

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