A push like this in Europe was bound to happen sooner or later, and part of me thinks it would have been smart for the US, via the DOE, to put about $25 million of ARRA money (ah, the good old days) into something like this. Yesterday, CORDIS, the European Community Research and Development Information Service, announced that a consortium of research centers and two companies will be getting €4.3 million (about $5.8 million) for a four-year effort to find a real-world silica aeroegel that can be a “superinsulating material” and a widespread commercial success.
The announcement specifically mentions that the “AEROCOINs” effort will address the two major roadblocks currently preventing widespread use of classic silica aerogel: poor mechanical properties (e.g., it is highly fragile) and production costs. (I believe AEROCOINs is something of an abbreviation for aerogel construction insulation.)
The AEROCOINs project proposes a clever combination of sol-gel chemistry and nanotechnology, which will rapidly advance the development of novel superinsulating aerogel materials.
The actual project is being conducted under the aegis of the EU’s R&D 2007-2013 Seventh Framework Program, and the FP7 project description provides a little more detail.
The AEROCOINs project proposes to create a new class of mechanically strong super-insulating aerogel composite/hybrid materials by overcoming the two major obstacles which have endured for so long and have prevented a more widespread use of silica-based aerogel insulation components in the building industry:
i) strengthening of silica aerogels by cross-linking with cellulosic polymers or the incorporation of cellulose-based nanofibers; and
ii) lowering the production cost of monolithic plates or boards of composite/hybrid aerogel materials via ambient drying and continuous production technology.
The European Union is providing €3.0 million of the project budget. The research centers include Tecnalia (Spain), ARMINES/MINES ParisTech (France), EMPA (Switzerland), VTT (Finland), ZAE Bayern (Germany) and Technical University of Lodz (Poland). The private companies involved in the effort are PCAS (France), Acciona Infraestructuras (Spain) and SEPAREX (France). Tecnalia will coordinate the project.
Tecnalia has already been involved in projects related to energy efficiency and new construction and the development of polymeric nanocomposites for curtain walls. EMPA has done work on aerogel plasters and the Swiss lab’s Matthias Koebel’s research group has been working in translucent aerogels for some time (pdf), so I suspect he will be involved. ZAE Bayern has also been working in sol-gel nanoporous materials.
FP7 projects are supposed to be vetted for a strong impact on the EU region, and the focus on a superinsulator sounds right. Last year, Lux Research issued a report about the appropriate emphasis of energy R&D in various developed regions of the world, and its report asserted that the energy-consumption pattern in many European nations is “dominated by heating” and that, for example, well over 25 percent of Germany’s energy consumption went into residential and commercial space heating.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Cabot and Aspen are also active in developing aerogel applications for the European market.