Aerogel composites for carbon capture and thermal management in commercial buildings – Feasibility Study

One of the most efficient methods for reducing energy consumption in buildings and therefore global CO2 emission is the reduction of heat loss and gain via surface coatings. Since this constitutes over 40% of the building cooling and heating load, its reduction is an effective step in energy reduction. Manufacturing and using materials with low thermal conductivity such as aerogels, during the design and construction of the buildings will ensure that the insulation is an effective method for reducing energy bills through reduction of air conditioning and heating demand. In addition, it has been documented that indoor CO2 levels could be as high as 3700ppm in offices and 2800 ppm in schools which is considerably larger than 400 ppm CO2 outdoor levels. Air quality and associated health effects in urban areas are a major concern in both developed and developing countries. 

Aerogels are ultra-light materials with the highest porosity known to man. Aerogels have outstanding thermal insulation properties and are therefore ideal materials for use in buildings. Aerogels have already been used in advanced applications by NASA. However, the widespread use of these materials is still limited because current commercial methods of synthesis require high pressure and high temperature to dry the gel, which is energy intensive and therefore produces materials too expensive for all except highly specialised use. Ambient pressure drying of gels provides an alternative, less energy intensive, route but commonly relies on replacing the original solvent used for gel preparation with various organic solvents which are also very costly. 

The PI team at Newcastle University have recently discovered a simple novel method for ambient pressure drying of aerogels which eliminates the need for use of organic solvents. This environmentally friendly technique has the potential to form the basis of sustainable, low cost manufacturing of aerogels and aerogel-based composites, including ‘smart’ materials.

Our feasibility study aims to make substantial cost reduction and engineering scale up development of new composite aerogel based materials for simultaneous direct carbon air capture in buildings and as efficient thermal insulation. If the study were successful, it would bring down energy consumption in the world. Since the total carbon footprint is similar in magnitude to that projected for energy efficiency efforts in buildings, the study that we propose on CO2 removal from commercial buildings, can also have impact at a climatically relevant scale and has direct implications for air quality. 

This project aims at reducing the cost of aerogel manufacture tenfold making high quality functional insulating materials widely available, improving energy efficiency and placing UK manufacturing in the forefront of a new technology.