Synthesis and characterisation of silica aerogel/fibrous material composites for the purposes of thermal insulation.

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Global warming is one of the most significant challenges that humanity is currently facing and will continue to face within the coming years. As noted in the Fifth Special Report by the IPCC, in 2010 buildings were responsible for approximately 32% of the overall global energy usage and approximately 20% of total global energy-associated greenhouse gas emissions [1]. According to the aforementioned IPCC Fifth Special Report, it is believed that the energy consumption and associated greenhouse gases that are directly linked with buildings may double or triple by 2050 [1].
Aerogels are defined as one of the most porous materials currently in existence. Their classification refers to a collection of highly nano-porous solids, which can be produced from a variety of precursors, imbuing each aerogel with highly variable properties [2]. As such, aerogels can provide solutions to, and enhance, current technologies. Such applications include aerogel implementation within heat insulation, drug delivery, and catalysis technologies [2].
The researcher aims to design and subsequently synthesise flame-resistant aerogel composites with superior mechanical properties, relative to that of conventional silica aerogels, through fibrous materials processing within the silica matrix. The intended application is for use as a sustainable, lightweight, and low-cost alternative for current thermal insulation. After the synthesis procedure has been carried out, optimisation of these composites will also be performed. Another aim is to develop a large-scale processing method in which sizable aerogels may be synthesised. Aerogels are currently limited in size due to the solvent-exchange aging process, which is diffusion limited, as the solvents cannot adequately penetrate the pores of the aerogels if the thickness is too significant [2].
Objectives: Utilise an array of analytical techniques in order to determine key parameters of the composites in order to establish the validity of the materials as forms of thermal insulation. Such parameters include the mechanical strength (compressive strength, tensile strength, and flexural strength), thermal conductivity, and flame-resistance.
Methodologies: The researcher intends to synthesise monolithic silica aerogel composites, via using a novel silica aerogel synthesis technique involving certain sustainable, low-cost, and non-toxic components, coupled with a specific silica precursor agent. Moreover, the validity of utilising a modified version of the aforementioned technique will be analysed in order to determine if it possible to use this method to bypass the solvent-exchange aging process and therefore synthesise sizeable aerogels. Such methodologies will be utilised as the theoretical processing basis for the large-scale production of aerogels.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R51309X/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2281167 Studentship EP/R51309X/1 23/09/2019 20/05/2023 Stephen Michael Laidler