Tough thin foam material insulates against noise and heat Friday, 25 November 2016

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a new thin foam material that will make vehicles and buildings cooler and quieter. 

The new foam is an aerogel composite made from silica aerogels with a few other additives. It is able to insulate against heat 2.6 times better than conventional insulation foam. 

Besides blocking out heat, the aerogel composite foam can also block out 80 percent of outside noise, 30 percent more than usual noise blocking materials. 

According to the researchers, the new material is now ready for commercialization, and is expected to hit the market early 2017. Potential applications include building and construction, oil and gas, and in vehicles. 

The Nanyang Technological University team, consisting of Associate Professor Sunil Chandrankant Joshi and his then-PhD student, Dr Mahesh Sachithanadamspent four years developing the silica aerogel material. The technology had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and patented. 

Singaporean company, Bronx Creative & Design Center (BDC), has licensed this aerogel composites technology in a USD$5.2 million joint venture. Dubbed “Bronx AeroSil”, BDC says it will be produced by a plant that will be operational by 2017. 

The plant will produce the aerogel composite in various form factors, including sheets and panels, in line with current sizes used in industry. 

According to Professor Sunil, implementation of the foam will be easier, as the material is thinner than conventional foam while delivering better performance.  

For example, to reduce the noise generated by a truck driving by to levels similar to that of a normal conversation, only 15mm of the aerogel material is needed. Common insulation foam requires 25mm thickness to achieve the same performance. 

Against heat, Bronx AeroSil which is 50 per cent thinner than conventional foam will still out-perform it by 37 per cent. 

It is also more environmentally friendly to manufacture. 

“It does not require high heat treatment or toxic materials in its production. It is therefore a lot more eco-friendly and less hazardous to the environment,” Professor Sunil explained. 

Another advantage is the material is non-flammable, which is a crucial factor for materials used in high heat environments, such as within the oil and gas industries. 

It is also resilient and can withstand high compression or heavy loads. A small 10cm by 10cm piece of the aerogel composite material weighing just 15 grams can take up to 300 kilogrammes of weight, maintaining its shape without being flattened. 

Mr Thomas Ng, R&D Director of BDC, said this new material could address a real market need for high-performance heat insulation and better sound proofing. 

“With the global industries moving towards green manufacturing and a lowered carbon footprint, the new foam we produce will help address their needs and yet give a better performance,” Mr Ng said. 

“Moving forward, we hope to show the current market that going green doesn’t mean that performance has to be compromised. We will be working with industry partners and certified testing labs to achieve the relevant standards and certifications. 

[New thin foam subjected to 1,100°C flame while remaining cool at 26°C on the back. Photo: NTU]