Nanoengineered Silica-Polymer Composite Aerogels with No Need for Supercritical Fluid Drying
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Owing to their low density, dielectric constant, thermal conductivity, high porosity and chemical inertness, monolithic aerogels could be useful in a variety of electronic, optical and chemical applications . However, practical implementation has been slow, because aerogels are fragile, environmentally sensitive (hydrophilic) and most importantly, the final stage of their preparation involves supercritical fluid (SCF) extraction [1c]. It is reported herewith that for a nominal 3-fold increase in density, typical polymer crosslinked silica aerogels are not only stronger (> 300×) and less hydrophilic (< 10×) than the underlying silica backbone, but they can also withstand the capillary forces exerted upon their nanostructured framework by the residing meniscus of selected solvents, and thus they can be dried under ambient pressure without need for supercritical fluid (SCF) extraction. The best solvent identified for that purpose is pentane, and the resulting aerogels are both microscopically and macroscopically identical to their SCF-CO2 dried counterparts. Being able to dry monolithic crosslinked aerogels without SCF extraction is expected to facilitate their commercial application.
Keywordsaerogel crosslinked composite ambient pressure drying
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