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article imageSuper-insulating gel could boost skyscraper energy efficiency

By Tim Sandle     Aug 19, 2018 in Science
Scientists have developed a new type of gel that could increase energy efficiency in skyscrapers, through special insulating properties. The gel could also help scientists to build habitats on Mars for future manned missions.
The super-insulating gel was been constructed by scientists working at University of Colorado at Boulder. The gel could significantly increase the energy efficiency of tall-buildings, like skyscrapers. Furthermore, the gel could help with the building of greenhouse-like habitats for future colonists on Mars.
The new gel is an "aerogel." This has the appearance of flattened plastic contact lenses. An aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component for the gel has been replaced with a gas (mose aerogels contain 90 percent gas by weight). Such gels are of an extremely low density and have low thermal conductivity.
The new gel is transparent and it is highly resistant to heat. The researchers claim that a person could place a strip of the gel onto their hand and a fire on top without feeling anything. According to lead researcher Professor Ivan Smalyukh: "Transparency is an enabling feature because you can use this gel in windows, and you could use it in extraterrestrial habitats."
He adds: "You could harvest sunlight through that thermally-insulating material and store the energy inside, protecting yourself from those big oscillations in temperature that you have on Mars or on the moon."
The new gels are of low cost due to the raw material coming from a recycled material -beer waste. Bacteria help to decompose the food waste. This recycling process avoids unnecessary waste from going to landfill.
The resultant ultra thin film of the gel is formed of crisscrossing patterns of solid material. This serves to trap air inside billions of tiny pores. This process is similar to the bubbles found in bubble wrap. The air trapping process assist with the material being a good insulator. In many buildings, at least 25 percent of energy used to either heat or cool a building is wasted to the outside environment.
By controlling how cellulose molecules link up, the researchers were able to orient the molecules into a lattice-like pattern. That pattern allows light to pass through, providing the gel its transparent appearance. This makes the gel suitable for use in windows; to add to this the material is around 100 times lighter than glass. Key to this was achieving a uniformity of molecular arrangement.
More about Superinsulating gel, insulating, Mars, Energy efficiency
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