Aerogel composites for carbon capture and thermal management in commercial buildings - Feasibility Study

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University


One of the most efficient methods for reducing energy consumption in buildings and therefore global CO2 emission is the reduction of heat loss and gain via surface coatings. Since this constitutes over 40% of the building cooling and heating load, its reduction is an effective step in energy reduction. Manufacturing and using materials with low thermal conductivity such as aerogels, during the design and construction of the buildings will ensure that the insulation is an effective method for reducing energy bills through reduction of air conditioning and heating demand. In addition, it has been documented that indoor CO2 levels could be as high as 3700ppm in offices and 2800 ppm in schools which is considerably larger than 400 ppm CO2 outdoor levels. Air quality and associated health effects in urban areas are a major concern in both developed and developing countries.
Aerogels are ultra-light materials with the highest porosity known to man. Aerogels have outstanding thermal insulation properties and are therefore ideal materials for use in buildings. Aerogels have already been used in advanced applications by NASA. However, the widespread use of these materials is still limited because current commercial methods of synthesis require high pressure and high temperature to dry the gel, which is energy intensive and therefore produces materials too expensive for all except highly specialised use. Ambient pressure drying of gels provides an alternative, less energy intensive, route but commonly relies on replacing the original solvent used for gel preparation with various organic solvents which are also very costly.
The PI team at Newcastle University have recently discovered a simple novel method for ambient pressure drying of aerogels which eliminates the need for use of organic solvents. This environmentally friendly technique has the potential to form the basis of sustainable, low cost manufacturing of aerogels and aerogel-based composites, including 'smart' materials.
Our feasibility study aims to make substantial cost reduction and engineering scale up development of new composite aerogel based materials for simultaneous direct carbon air capture in buildings and as efficient thermal insulation. If the study were successful, it would bring down energy consumption in the world. Since the total carbon footprint is similar in magnitude to that projected for energy efficiency efforts in buildings, the study that we propose on CO2 removal from commercial buildings, can also have impact at a climatically relevant scale and has direct implications for air quality.
This project aims at reducing the cost of aerogel manufacture tenfold making high quality functional insulating materials widely available, improving energy efficiency and placing UK manufacturing in the forefront of a new technology.

Planned Impact

In recent past there have been unpredictable rapid fluctuations in the cost of energy, so the secure supply of energy sources and our ability to use them efficiently have been shown to be extremely important for the UK and the world economy. Among the main issues related to the use of inexpensive energy sources (i.e., fossil fuels) are carbon management and energy efficiency/reduction of consumption.
Our proposed feasibility study which incorporates novel manufacturing technology for composite aerogels can have a large impact on construction and manufacturing industry in regard to energy savings (so improving energy security) and could establish a new industrial process. Aerogels are important as specific insulation materials for applications as diverse as buildings to industrial plant (such as low temperature heat pumps). Our proposed feasibility study is therefore potentially of global and cross-sector significance, producing cost savings both at point of use and in carbon credits since many industrial processes could become more efficient. As our process works at atmospheric pressure, does not necessitate investment in expensive equipment, and has low energy consumption we project that our method could lower costs of production by at least 10 times compared with the current price of aerogels produced by supercritical CO2 drying.
There is also an urgent need to reduce emission of greenhouse gases in order to mitigate the worst impact of climate change on the environment, human society and our economies. CO2 has the largest impact on global climate change due to large increases in the air from to human activity, now reaching level of >400 ppm according to data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. More than 10 years ago, in 2005, the world's buildings emitted 8.3 Gt of carbon dioxide each year, accounting for more than 30% of the greenhouse gas emission in many developed countries. It has been projected that by 2030 the decrease in global CO2 emission in buildings could be 3.5 Gt CO2 per year by 2030 if the investment is found.
Our proposed feasibility study also aims to make substantial cost reduction and engineering scale up development of composite amine based aerogel materials for simultaneous direct CO2 capture inside of buildings. Since the total carbon footprint for direct carbon air capture in buildings is similar in magnitude to that projected for energy efficiency efforts in buildings, our study on CO2 removal from commercial buildings can also have impact at a climatically relevant scale. Our work if successful could have direct implications environmentally for improvement of air quality.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, has recently declared air pollution, and more specifically particulate matter, as Group 1 carcinogen. Public Health England in 2014 has estimated that annually about 29,000 deaths of over-25s are caused by long-term exposure to PM2.5 (dust particles with less than 2.5 microns aerodynamic diameter) with an associated 306,835 life-years lost. It is thus important to find ways to reduce particulate matter pollution from major sources. Aerogels have already been used in advanced applications by NASA for the stardust removal at space crafts. The porous network structure of silica aerogel composites that will be developed in this work have potential of both CO2 indoor and dust particles removal.


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Description Aerogels, are the most porous and thermally efficient materials known to man. They are used in space exploration including the capture of high-speed star-dust, cryogenic insulation for space launch vehicles and thermal insulation for Mars rovers. With their outstanding insulation properties, aerogels have great potential to be commercialised but until now, the high cost of manufacturing has prohibited their use in domestic applications. The traditional manufacture processes for aerogels require special pressurised chambers and high-energy consumption or a large amount of expensive organic solvent.
For the past 7 years, research scientist at Newcastle University in Prof siller group were inspired by the mechanism by which dragonflies form their wings from the water, and have developed a very low-cost process for the manufacture of aerogels that has been patented ( Prof Siller and Dr Han) which can take place in ambient environmental conditions using a low-cost water-based solution. It is understood that this is ~80 times cheaper than the organic solvent used in other ambient environmental manufacture although estimates are 'bench-scale' and do not have the benefit of industrial scaling . This novel production process has the potential to provide a breakthrough in the large scale production of aerogels, reduce their cost and enable their use in mainstream applications such as insulation, smart windows and catalytic converters. This potentially provides a 'step-change' for the existing aerogel industry and would, through the adoption of industrial scaling make aerogel products much more accessible and usable.
We have now Spin out new company Dragonfly Insulation Ltd.with Newcastle University in July 2020. New processes are being developed during this feasibility study funded by EPSRC and exploitation of those processes form a key component for further work. In particular, currently we have developed a new process creating 'popcorn' aerogels which cuts both cost and time in aerogel production dramatically, in the latter case from around five days to thirty minutes. These newly developed production methods are readily scalable and represent a world-leading breakthrough that should have a major impact not just on UK leadership of the field, but also, through the products which become economically viable, in ameliorating greenhouse gas emissions.
Exploitation Route Media attention
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Construction,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Part of this work led to Spin out company which now employs 3 people. Recipient of ''WES Top 50 Women in Engineering (WE50) 2022: Inventors and Innovators Award'' This is national award by Women in Engineering Society.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Construction,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Business planning of manufacturing aerogels
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation 
Department Northern Accelerator
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2019 
End 03/2020
Description Dragonfly Insulation
Amount £34,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 06/2019
Description Epoxy-silica aerogels coating with preserved aerogel pores composite
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2019 
End 11/2020
Description Scale up of aerogel powders and granules
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation 
Department CCF
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2019 
End 06/2020
Description The Royal Society Travel grants
Amount £2,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2011 
End 03/2011
Description Carbon 8 
Organisation Carbon8 Systems
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Carbon 8
Collaborator Contribution they used 100g of silica aerogel powder and make proof of concept that is possible to make aggregates with their carbonation process, however to optimise aggregates we need to further scale up the process
Impact proof of concept
Start Year 2017
Description Nozzle spray 
Organisation BETE Fog Nozzle, Inc
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution we have provided details of the process, speed, fluid viscosity, spraying speed
Collaborator Contribution design of spraying system
Impact not yet
Start Year 2017
Description Prof Lidija Siller and Dr Xiao Han have Spin out company from Newcastle University. Purpose of company is to manufacture aerogels, the most porous materials and most insulating material known to man. Silica aerogels are also nonflammable and acoustic insulators. Aim of company is to produce powders, granules and panels of aerogels that can be used in various applications (such as rendering, plastering, concrete, paint etc..). For the past 7 years Prof Siller and Dr Han developed new method of processing aerogels, by ambient pressure drying method with inorganic water based solvents that cut 10 fold production of aerogels. 
Year Established 2019 
Impact The company aims to manufacture in next 18 months, first a one ton quantity of aerogels in order to obtain certification so that company can sell in UK and abroad.
Description Organised an Open public lecture, Aerogels: from Science to Art took place on 17th September 2019, Hatton gallery, Newcastle University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact presentation by Dr. Michail Petkov (NASA Jet propulsion Laboratory, MIT, USA) and Dr. Ioannis Michaloudis (Greek aerogel scientist and artist). Attracted over 30 attendees including business, artists, scientist and engineers, with exhibition of aerogels sculptures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Organised as International Chair ''1st International Conference on Aerogel Inspired Materials'', 18-20th September, 2019 Newcastle University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Prof Siller was a Chair of international Committee and Organasing Chair.
There was 58 registered people from science and business background, from over 10 countries (USA, Japan, China, Germany, Italy, Isrel, Thailand, France, Canada, Spain, UK). I was a Chair of International and local organising committee.
The Second International Conference on Aerogel Inspired Materials is scheduled for last week of July, 2021, Tongji University, Shanghai, China. As a Chair I started this dedicated Aerogel conference that will circulate around different countries and continents in the future, until now it is only one dedicated conferences on Aerogel in this field and was always hosted by Germany or France every 2 years for the past 8 years.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Public lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Cafe Scientific, Stockton on Tees, 1/06/2018 'Bioinspired solutions in nanotechnology: Carbon Capture and Super-Insulators'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018