A method of imparting relatively hard protective outer skins to aerogel monoliths has been developed. Even more than aerogel beads, aerogel monoliths are attractive as thermal-insulation materials, but the commercial utilization of aerogel monoliths in thermal-insulation panels has been inhibited by their fragility and the consequent difficulty of handling them. Therefore, there is a need to afford sufficient protection to aerogel monoliths to facilitate handling, without compromising the attractive bulk properties (low density, high porosity, low thermal conductivity, high surface area, and low permittivity) of aerogel materials. The present method was devised to satisfy this need.

The essence of the present method is to coat an aerogel monolith with an outer polymeric skin, by painting or spraying. Apparently, the reason spraying and painting were not attempted until now is that it is well known in the aerogel industry that aerogels collapse in contact with liquids. In the present method, one prevents such collapse through the proper choice of coating liquid and process conditions: In particular, one uses a viscous polymer precursor liquid and (a) carefully controls the amount of liquid applied and/or (b) causes the liquid to become cured to the desired hard polymeric layer rapidly enough that there is not sufficient time for the liquid to percolate into the aerogel bulk.

The method has been demonstrated by use of isocyanates, which, upon exposure to atmospheric moisture, become cured to polyurethane/polyurea-type coats. The method has also been demonstrated by use of commercial epoxy resins. The method could also be implemented by use of a variety of other resins, including polyimide precursors (for forming high-temperature-resistant protective skins) or perfluorinated monomers (for forming coats that impart hydrophobicity and some increase in strength).

This work was done by Nicholas Leventis, James C. Johnston, Maria A. Kuczmarski, and Mary Ann B. Meador of Glenn Research Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Materials category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

NASA Glenn Research Center
Commercial Technology Office
Attn: Steve Fedor
Mail Stop 4–8
21000 Brookpark Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44135.

Refer to LEW-17605-1.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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