A method has been developed for creating aerogel using normal pressure and ambient temperatures. All spacecraft, satellites, and landers require the use of thermal insulation due to the extreme environments encountered in space and on extraterrestrial bodies. Ambient dried aerogels introduce the possibility of using aerogel as thermal insulation in a wide variety of instances where supercritically dried aerogels cannot be used. More specifically, thermoelectric devices can use ambient dried aerogel, where the advantages are in situ production using the cast-in ability of an aerogel.
Previously, aerogels required supercritical conditions (high temperature and high pressure) to be dried. Ambient dried aerogels can be dried at room temperature and pressure. This allows many materials, such as plastics and certain metal alloys that cannot survive supercritical conditions, to be directly immersed in liquid aerogel precursor and then encapsulated in the final, dried aerogel. Additionally, the metalized Mylar films that could not survive the previous methods of making aerogels can survive the ambient drying technique, thus making multilayer insulation (MLI) materials possible. This results in lighter insulation material as well.
Because this innovation does not require high-temperature or high-pressure drying, ambient dried aerogels are much less expensive to produce. The equipment needed to conduct supercritical drying costs many tens of thousands of dollars, and has associated running expenses for power, pressurized gasses, and maintenance. The ambient drying process also expands the size of the pieces of aerogel that can be made because a high-temperature, high-pressure system typically has internal dimensions of up to 30 cm in diameter and 60 cm in height. In the case of this innovation, the only limitation on the size of the aerogels produced would be in the ability of the solvent in the wet gel to escape from the gel network.