Aerogel is the most porous material known on earth and ultralight. In fact, a piece as big as a car weighs less than a kilogram. It is a low-density, highly-effective thermal insulator.
To produce it in this form, however, the wet silica gel is carefully dried. However, removing the water molecules without collapsing the fine silica structure has long been an extensive and expensive process. Therefore its use has been limited to specialist tasks, such as in the aerospace industry.

Over the years, the production of aerogel has become cheaper and more commercially viable. Earlier this year, a team of experts led by Newcastle University in the United Kingdom (UK) has found a way to cheaply replicate the drying process by mimicking the way in which dragonflies dry out their wings.

Instead of drying the silica under a high temperature and pressure, bicarbonate of soda is used to “blow” out the water molecules and trap carbon dioxide in the pores. Their next step will be to scale up the process to create larger panels of insulation for buildings.

This discovery is expected to make aerogel insulation widely available at a much lower cost.

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