Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) researchers have developed a new insulation from materials known as aerogel composites. The new foam insulates against heat 2.6 times better than conventional insulation foam. The new material can make vehicles and buildings cooler and quieter compared the current insulation materials in the market.
When compared to traditional materials used in soundproofing, the new material can block out 80 percent of outside noise, 30 percent more than current commercial ones.
NTU’s thin foam subjected to a 1100 degree flame while remaining cool at 26 degrees on the back. Image Credit: Nanyang Technological University. Click image for the largest view.
Made from silica aerogels with a few other additives, this new material is now ready for commercialization and is expected to hit the market early next year. The promising product has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications, including in building and construction, oil and gas and the automotive industry.
The aerogel composites took NTU Assoc Prof Sunil Chandrankant Joshi and his then PhD student, Dr Mahesh Sachithanadam, four years to develop. The technology has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and a patent has been filed by NTU’s innovation and enterprise arm NTUitive.
A local company, Bronx Creative & Design Center Pte Ltd (BDC), has licensed the aerogel composites technology with a joint venture capitalized with S$7 million ($5.2 USD million), and a production plant that will be operational in 2017. The plant will produce the aerogel composites in various forms such as sheets or panels, in line with current industry sizes.
Assoc Prof Sunil, from NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said the foam will be easy to install and use as it is thinner than conventional foam yet has better performance, “Our NTU thin foam is also greener to manufacture, as it does not require high heat treatment or toxic materials in its production. It is therefore a lot more eco-friendly and less hazardous to the environment.”
Mr. Thomas Ng, R&D Director of BDC, said this new material would address a real market need for high-performance heat insulation and better sound proofing, “With the global industries moving towards green manufacturing and a lowered carbon footprint, the new foam we produce will help address their needs and yet give a better performance.”
“Moving forward, we hope to show the current market that going green doesn’t mean that performance has to be compromised. We will be working with industry partners and certified testing labs to achieve the relevant standards and certifications.” said Mr Ng. “BDC has plans to have a footprint locally as we are now in talks with a few local parties to make this happen, in line with Singapore’s vision of being a global leader in the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sector,” he added.
BDC has various negotiations underway with other companies to expand the production to India and various Southeast Asia countries within the next three years.
The new aerogel composite has been branded “Bronx AeroSil” by BDC and is being developed for various applications by Dr Mahesh, now the Chief Technology Officer at BDC.
For example, to reduce the noise generated by a truck driving by to that of a normal conversation, only 15mm of the new material would be needed. On the other hand, common insulation foam requires a thickness of 25mm.
The aerogel composite can reduce noise by as much as 80 percent whereas normal foam only reduces sound by 50 per cent, explained Dr Mahesh.
Against heat, Bronx AeroSil which is 50 percent thinner than conventional foam will still outperform it by 37 percent.
“For both heat insulation and sound-proofing, we can now use less material to achieve the same effect, which will also lower the overall material and logistic costs,” Dr Mahesh said.
Apart from being a good thermal and acoustic insulator, it is also non-flammable – a crucial factor for materials used in high heat environments common in the oil and gas industries.
The foam is also resilient and can withstand high compression or heavy loads. A small 10cm by 10cm piece of the aerogel composite material weighing just 15 grams can take up to 300 kilogram’s of weight, maintaining its shape without being flattened.
In the first quarter of next year, BDC will begin mass producing the aerogel composites for their clients, which include companies from the automotive, electronics, and oil and gas sectors.
Further research and optimization will be carried out to improve the performance of the aerogel composite material to ensure it maintains its competitiveness edge against other technologies, said Dr Mahesh.
There you are, let the engineering begin! A great idea and development effort goes to market