A flexible, organic polyurea-based aerogel insulation material was developed that will provide superior thermal insulation and inherent radiation protection for government and commercial applications. The rubbery polyurea-based aerogel exhibits little dustiness, good flexibility and toughness, and durability typical of the parent polyurea polymer, yet with the low density and superior insulation properties associated with aerogels. The thermal conductivity values of polyurea-based aerogels at lower temperature under vacuum pressures are very low and better than that of silica aerogels.

Flexible, rubbery polyurea-based aerogels are able to overcome the weak and brittle nature of conventional inorganic and organic aerogels, including polyisocyanurate aerogels, which are generally prepared with the one similar component to polyurethane rubber aerogels. Additionally, with higher content of hydrogen in their structures, the polyurea rubber-based aerogels will also provide inherently better radiation protection than those of inorganic and carbon aerogels. The aerogel materials also demonstrate good hydrophobicity due to their hydrocarbon molecular structure.

There are several strategies to overcoming the drawbacks associated with the weakness and brittleness of silica aerogels. Development of the flexible fiber-reinforced silica aerogel composite blanket has proven to be one promising approach, providing a conveniently fielded form factor that is relatively robust in industrial environments compared to silica aerogel monoliths. However, the flexible, silica aerogel composites still have a brittle, dusty character that may be undesirable, or even intolerable, in certain application environments. Although the crosslinked organic aerogels, such as resorcinol-formaldehyde (RF), polyisocyanurate, and cellulose aerogels, show very high impact strength, they are also very brittle with little elongation (i.e., less rubbery). Also, silica and carbon aerogels are less efficient radiation shielding materials due to their lower content of hydrogen element.

The invention involves mixing at least one isocyanate resin in solvent along with a specific amount of at least one polyamine hardener. The hardener is selected from a group of polyoxyalkyleneamines, amine-based polyols, or a mixture thereof. Mixing is performed in the presence of a catalyst and reinforcing inorganic and/or organic materials, and the system is then subjected to gelation, aging, and supercritical drying. The aerogels will offer exceptional flexibility, excellent thermal and physical properties, and good hydrophobicity.

The rubbery polyurea-based aerogels are very flexible with no dust and hydrophobic organics that demonstrated the following ranges of typical properties: densities of 0.08 to 0.293 g/cm3, shrinkage factor (raerogel/rtarget) = 1.6 to 2.84, and thermal conductivity values of 15.2 to 20.3 mW/m K.

This work was done by Je Kyun Lee of Aspen Aerogels, Inc. for Johnson Space Center.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Aspen Aerogels, Inc.
30 Forbes Road, Building B
Northborough, MA 01532
Phone No.: (508) 691-1111
Fax No.: (508) 691-1200


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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