Innovators at NASA's Glenn Research Center have developed polyimide aerogel technologies that are 500 times stronger than traditional silica aerogels. These durable polyimide aerogels are highly flexible and foldable in contrast to traditional silica aerogels, which shed dust particles and are notoriously fragile and brittle. Polyimide aerogels possess remarkable strength, flexibility, and moisture resistance and make excellent “wrappable” insulators. No other aerogel possesses the compressive and tensile strength of this organic polyimide aerogel while still retaining its ability to be flexibly folded to contour to whatever shape is needed such as automotive shields, pipeline insulation, and protective clothing.
Glenn's durable polyimide aerogels combine the robust nature of a polyimide network with low thermal and sound conductivity. This unique combination of strength, flexibility, and exceptional insulating properties make these aerogels ideal for insulation (thermal, electrical, and acoustic), structural elements, and more at a fraction of the weight of similar materials.
Aerogels are highly porous, low-density solids with extremely small pore sizes, fabricated by forming a gel from a solution in the wet-gel state that is then converted to the dry-solid state without compaction of the porous architecture. Aerogels make excellent electrical, thermal, and acoustic insulators; however, most inorganic silica aerogels are fragile and shed dust. The NASA Glenn team is the first to synthesize three-dimensional polymer aerogel networks of polyimides cross-linked with multifunctional amine monomers.
They can be fabricated or machined into net shape parts, which are strong and stiff, or cast as thin flexible films with good tensile properties. Extremely customizable, polyimide aerogels can be formed into any configuration (e.g., wrapped around a pipe, sewn into protective clothing, or molded into a panel to act as a heat shield in a car).