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April 5th, 2013

Aerogel-based insulation continuing to make progress with commercialization

Published on April 5th, 2013 | By: Eileen De Guire

Official video (in German) of STO In Aevero aerogel insulation boards. Credit: STO.

One of the promises of your basic silica-based aerogel is that it would make a fantastic component in insulation systems—but there have always been a lot of manufacturing and processing “ifs” involved. Nevertheless, several companies are starting to make headway with emerging commercial products.

Before I get into the details, I always try to point out that in the big picture the importance—in terms of energy consumption—of improved building insulation varies among regions of the globe. While it is a second-tier concern in North America, the energy-consumption pattern in many European nations is dominated by heating. Germany is one of the best examples, where well over 25 percent of the nation’s energy consumption goes into residential and commercial space heating. Much of the problem is related to the age of the building stock. Besides the heat leakage problems that come from very old buildings, remediation is also a challenge because of sheer space limitations.

Thus, while the availability of aerogel-containing insulation panels and systems may not be front-page news in the United States, it is a fairly big deal in Europe (where the EU is already funding a major research and commercialization initiative). It’s worth keeping this in mind as you read about the developments below, and illustrated in the video above.

The first is that an internal insulation and finishing system developed by STO AG—”STO in Aevero”—recently received the “Award for Product Innovation” at the BAU 2013 trade fair. At least in terms of product recognition, this is a nice accomplishment because BAU, as far as I know, is the world’s largest expo for architecture, materials, and systems. STO’s system uses aerogel develop by Cabot.

Sixty companies were part of the competition, vying for three prizes and six awards. The STO/Cabot system won the events “Investing in the Future” award, which apt. A Cabot news release describes the product as a “super slim system is comprised of a composite board that combines Cabot’s aerogel particles for superior energy-savings performance with STO’s binder and composite technology. This results in an insulation board that offers greater energy efficiency than traditional materials. Cabot’s aerogel enables an ultra-low thermal conductivity of 0.016 W/mK applied in very thin insulation thicknesses from 10 to 40 millimeters (R3.5 – R14).”

Here is a summary of STO In Aevero’s properties:

  • Thermal conductivity: 0.016 W / (mK)
  • Compressive strength: ≥ 100 kPa
  • Water vapor diffusion resistance factor μ: 10
  • Tensile strength perpendicular to faces: ≥ 20 kPa
  • Density: ≥ 150 kg / m³
  • Panel thicknesses: 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 mm
  • Sheet size: 580 x 390 mm
  • Material class B2 according to DIN 4102 (B1 in the system)

STO’s contribution is significant in that it had to design and manufacture a composite board that, besides incorporating the aerogel, also addresses permeability and vapor control and delivers a product in a thin form factor. STO also has developed some important installation methodologies, and leveraged its experience with installing high-quality facade, plasters, paints and rain screen-cladding systems.

In the Cabot release, Raj Chary, vice president and general manager for Cabot Aerogel says, “[STO’s] modern, intelligent solutions in reconstruction, renovation and renewal work are helping architects and builders meet the highest regional and industry standards for energy conservation, [and to] help deliver energy efficient renovation solutions for historical buildings as well as new construction.”

One frustrating thing that unfortunately is lacking in these announcements is pricing/installation cost information relative to traditional insulation.

While STO and Cabot seem to be staking out the building sector, Aspen Aerogels continues to refine its products for industrial application. Aspen was one of the first companies that demonstrated a flexible insulation system that could, for example, be used as a wrapable barrier around pipes. Aspen and others saw a business opportunity with insulating pipes that pass through cold regions, such as the petroleum pipelines that cross Alaska.

Apparently the company was also keeping an eye on high-temperature applications, too. Recently Aspen, announced a new high-temperature insulation, Pyrogel XT-E. A news release from the company indicates that the new product is a variation of if the existing XT product, and that it is being aimed at uses refining, petrochemical, power and other facilities. Given the recent boom in the drilling and refining industries, a product aimed at this sector makes a lot of sense.

In the Aspen release, Don Young, president and CEO, says Pyrogel XT-E is “the most effective high-temperature insulation material in the industrial market and improves our customers’ ability to use our product in the most demanding environments.”

A document (pdf) on the Aspen websites says that it is available in rolls of sizes of 850 and 1,500 square feet, is available in 5 and 10-millimeter thicknesses, and has a density of about 12.5 pounds per cubic foot.

Like Aspen’s other products, the Pyrogel XT-E comes in rolls that makes it a “labor saver.” Aspen also says it has been able to significantly reduce the dust that comes from installation. It says its flexible blanket form is up to five-times thinner than competing insulation products and can serve in applications that range from -270 °C to 650°C.

No pricing was mentioned for the Aspen product, either.


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