NASA named Thermablok aerogel insulating material to its Top 49 list of products in the newly released 2009 edition of Spinoff, NASA's annual premier publication featuring companies that have successfully adapted NASA technologies to everyday products and made them available to average consumers.
Aerogel demonstrates insulating qualities
Aerogels were invented in 1931 and demonstrate properties that make them the most extraordinary insulating materials known; a one-inch- thick piece of aerogel provides the same insulation as layering 15 panes of glass with air pockets in between.
Derived from silica, aluminum oxide, or carbon gels using a supercritical drying process - resulting in a composition of almost 99-percent air - aerogel is the world’s lightest solid ( among 15 other titles they hold in Guinness World Records,) can float indefinitely on water if treated to be hydrophobic, and can withstand extremely hot temperatures (from 1,000 F to 3,000 F depending on the type of aerogel) down to cryogenic levels, making this “frozen smoke” ideal for use in space.
Aerogel Frozen Smoke
Because of its low weight and ability to withstand temperature extremes , aerogel was even used as the space-based catcher’s mitt to trap comet particles and space dust for NASA’s stardust mission, launched in 1999. All of this remarkable technology’s characteristics were ideal for NASA’s purposes except one: the aerogels were extremely brittle.
Through a long - term partnership with the Kennedy Space Center, researchers developed a flexible, durable form of aerogel that NASA has since used as cryogenic insulation for space shuttle launch systems. The technology has made oil pipeline insulation, extreme weather clothing, and infrared shielding for combat helicopters
The company which developed the “R&D 100” award-winning flexible aerogels under Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts with Kennedy approached Acoustiblok Inc., of Tampa, Florida, to perform acoustical testing on its flexible aerogel to explore the potential for enhancing the aerogel’s sound-muffling capabilities.
Acoustiblok is an industry leader in acoustical insulation. One-eighth of an inch of Acoustiblok, the company’s proprietary acoustical insulation, reduces more sound than 12 inches of concrete when added to a stud wall. It has previously conducted research with NASA on floor resonance- reducing sound from one floor of a building to the next. Impressed by the aerogel’s qualities, Acoustiblok considered aerogel products for enhancing energy efficiency that could take advantage of the company’s expertise in providing sound insulation for buildings and other applications.
Thermablok strips are easily applied to wall studs, providing an affordable and environmentally friendly boost to a wall’s insulation factor
While a great deal of energy conservation efforts focus on transportation, “estimates are that more than 50 percent of the energy in the United States is used within buildings,” says Lahnie Johnson, Acoustiblok’s president and founder. He also notes that energy consumption in buildings results in an estimated 46% of the Nation’s carbon emissions. Because of this, Acoustiblok saw great potential in engineering a narrow strip of flexible aerogel to be applied to wall studs in buildings to break the thermal transfer ( thermal bridging ) between the interior and exterior of building walls. The companies arranged for Acoustiblok to take over the production and marketing of this aerogel application.
Thermal bridging is an acute problem when it comes to insulating buildings, says Johnson. More than 30 percent of the energy used for temperature control in buildings escapes through walls, more than though the floor, or roof which is why Johnson foresees a significant impact from his company’s aerogel product: Thermablok. Thermablok strips are easily applied to wall studs, providing an affordable and environmentally friendly boost to a wall’s insulation factor.
“We see Thermablok as having incredible market potential and providing a benefit to people all over the world,” he says. Manufactured by Acoustiblok, Thermablok is a thin, 3/8-inch-thick ( - inch installed) by 1 - inch-wide strip of flexible aerogel in a plastic casing with a peel -and - stick adhesive backing. The strips are 100- percent recyclable, comprised of more than 30-percent recyclable material, and allow low-cost, low emissions shipping due to their virtually weightless composition.
According to tests conducted by US Department of Energy, a 1/4-inch( installed) thick strip of Thermablok applied to the wall studs before the installation of dry wall increases the wall’s insulation factor by 30- percent ; a 1/4-inch (installed) thick strip produces an increase of 42-percent.
As an example, Acoustiblok notes that a typical 2,400 -square- foot Midwest home ( 16-inch, on- center stud framing; standard insulation; wood siding) outfitted with Thermablok would save more than $700 annually in energy costs with an accompanying 3.9- ton reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The strips can be easily cut to any length and applied using the attached adhesive backing or staples. A typical Midwest home outfitted with Thermablok would save over $700 annually in energy costs.
Johnson says Acoustiblok is currently acquiring numerous construction contracts and getting Thermablok , which is also available in sheet form, specified into public and commercial buildings. Thermablok’s hydrophobic qualities ( which also render it age-resistant) make it suitable for marine applications as well. Johnson says Thermablok will see use in industrial and commercial boats, in oil rigs, and refineries where piping that is both extremely loud and hot will benefit from Thermablok and Acoustiblok layered together. Lumber yards and commercial chain stores like Home Depot and Lowes are expressing interest in selling the product as well.
Acoustiblok also plans to take advantage of the popularity of its acoustical insulation in the Middle East, where privacy is highly valued, to meet the need there for superior thermal insulation. Johnson anticipates developers specifying Thermablok into mega building projects in the region. “This is a U.S. product, a U.S. patent,” says Johnson. “It will bring significant cash flow into the U.S. while also benefitting people in other countries.”
Johnson traces Thermablok’s potential worldwide impact back to NASA research and development. “NASA is doing things that we just can’t afford to do here in free enterprise,” he says. It’s important people realize the real benefits of NASA’s work and how it trickles down into many aspects of our world today