NASA Spinoff

Polyimide Foams Offer Superior Insulation

“Not only is it an excellent thermal insulator, but it’s also nonflammable and nontoxic in a fire,” he says. “There are a lot of insulating materials out there, but of those that are both fireproof and nontoxic, there are only a few. You find even less at the density of these materials that display outstanding mechanical properties. In fact, you find only PerForma-H and VersaFlex.”

altThe performance-to-weight ratio of the GFT foams, Griffith says, is better than any available alternatives, providing substantial savings for customers: “You can use less of the polyimide foam to get the same insulating properties as traditional materials, and it weighs about one-seventh as much as calcium silicate and is on par with fiberglass.” Griffith notes that one of GFT’s large marine customers has realized a 90-percent reduction in labor costs from the adoption of PerForma-H as piping insulation, as documented during the customer’s shipboard installations on active duty vessels. The reduction comes as a result of lowered installation and maintenance costs, reusability, and an increased life cycle due to the foam’s high performance in heavy traffic areas and harsh environments.

Griffith also points out that the material is environmentally friendly, manufactured without any poisonous halogenated substances and using solvents that are completely recoverable. Manufacturing the NASA-developed foams is essentially “a wasteless process,” he says.

Providing pipe insulation that is easily installed on marine vessels is currently the main use for GFT’s foams. The small company recently entered into product deals that Griffith says will keep GFT manufacturing for the next 10 to 15 years—a major accomplishment considering the single significant disadvantage of the polyimide foams is that they are presently somewhat expensive to manufacture.

“The foams have been expensive to make for a variety of reasons, one being the limited availability of certain components,” Griffith explains. “We’ve addressed that supply issue to adequately support a commercial ramp.”

The technology’s NASA origin lends immediate credibility to GFT’s products and opens doors for investment, Griffith says. “You can’t get the technology NASA offers anywhere else. NASA technology provides a number of benefits that small businesses should seriously consider.”

Weiser, in the meantime, is working on acoustic insulation applications for polyimide foams, a potentially safer replacement for the more flammable fiberglass insulation used to dampen noise in commercial aircraft. He also notes interest in the technology for safe, ecologically sound building insulation. “If you have a fire, this foam isn’t going to burn or produce smoke,” he says, a boon for buildings from suburban homes to downtown high rises.

Industry applications outside of NASA are something that Weiser always keeps in mind. “We want to meet NASA’s goals first,” he says, “but the value of the technology will go up for NASA if industry can use it for other purposes.”