As part of an effort to develop improved lightweight thermal-insulation tiles to withstand temperatures up to 1,000 °C, silica aerogel/fused-quartz- fiber composite materials containing La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles as opacifiers have been investigated as potentially offering thermal conductivities lower than those of the otherwise equivalent silica-aerogel composite materials not containing La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles. The basic idea of incorporating opacifying particles into silica-aerogels composite to reduce infrared radiative contributions to thermal conductivities at high temperatures is not new: it has been reported in a number of previous NASA Tech Briefs articles. What is new here is the selection of La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles as candidate opacifiers that, in comparison with some prior opacifiers (carbon black and metal nanoparticles), are more thermally stable.
The preparation of a composite material of the present type includes synthesis of the silica-aerogel component in a sol-gel process. The La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles, made previously in a separate process, are mixed into the sol, which is then cast onto fused-quartz-fiber batting. Then the aerogel-casting solution is poured into the mold, where it permeates the silica fiber felt. After the sol has gelled, the casting is aged and then subjected to supercritical drying to convert the gel to the final aerogel form.
The separate process for making the La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles begins with the slow addition of corresponding proportions of La(CH3COOH)3, Mn(CH3COOH)3, and Sr(NO3)2 to a solution of H2O2 in H2O. The solution is then peptized by drop-wise addition of NH4OH to obtain a sol. Next, the sol is dried in an oven at a temperature of 120 °C to obtain a glassy solid. The solid is calcined at 700 °C to convert it to La0.7Sr0.3MnO3. Then La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles are made by ball-milling the calcined solid.
The effectiveness of La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles as opacifiers and thermal-conductivity reducers depends on the statistical distribution of particle sizes as well as the relative proportions of La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 and aerogel. For experiments performed thus far, samples of aerogel/fiber composites were formulated to have, variously, silica target density of 0.07 or 0.14 g/cm3 and to contain 30 percent of La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 in average particle size of 0.3 or 3 μm. The thermal conductivities of the samples containing the 3-μm La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles were found to be lower than those of the samples containing the 0.3-μm La0.7Sr0.3MnO3 particles. The optimum particle size is believed to be between 1 and 5 μm.