Making aerogel at home

[Ben] outdid himself. He successfully made monoliths of silica aerogel in his garage. Aerogel, the light-weight solid that has been referred to as ‘hard air’ is really freaking expensive especially in non-granulated form.

The techniques behind producing aerogels have been on the Internet for a fairly long time. A few uncommon chemicals and a supercritical drying chamber are required for production, meaning it takes a lot of know-how to make hard air at home. Somehow, [Ben] got ahold of some tetramethoxysilane, the hard to come by ingredient and made a supercritical drying chamber out of pipe fittings and liquid Carbon Dioxide.

In the end, [Ben] was able to make a few small pieces of aerogel. The size of his pieces were constrained by his “mold” (actually a syringe) and the size of his drying chamber. It’s very possible [Ben] could build a larger supercritical drying chamber and make larger pieces of aerogel that would be sold commercially for hundreds of dollars.

Check out the very informative walkthrough of [Ben]‘s process after the break. It’s 10 minutes long and makes for a great lunch break video.

Comments

  1. Kevin Keith says:

    How uncanny, I was /just/ thinking about doing some research on this very subject! Anyway, awesome video. This guy is an unadulterated genius. I believe he also built an electron microscope and liquid nitrogen production machine. I look forward to seeing more of your amazimgly impressive work Ben!

  2. Truth says:

    I’m really impressed by the project. One of the suggestions in the comments on Ben’s blog is brilliant. Here is the gist of it – use a “3A molecular sieves” to exchange the water for methanol (chemical drying), without having to change the methanol every day. This will increase the reaction rate due to le chatelier’s principal (less water in the methanol).

    I never realised exactly what aerogel was before. I knew it was air and silicon and it’s was damn damn high. But seeing how it was made it now makes sense, thanks.

    • Truth says:

      Sorry it should have been “R-value” as the link in the last post. It shows a picture of a few matches sitting on aergel over a intense flame.

      • Tony says:

        Yep, fill your walls & roof with aerogel, then double-glaze your windows with a vacuum in them, and most of your heating/cooling bill goes away.

        Stick some in your fridge too.

        Aerogel has two problems – too expensive and too brittle.

  3. Alex says:

    Very cool! I never really knew anything about aerogel beyond its strange material properties.

  4. hunter says:

    BWAHAHAHA!

    My home brew hydrogen bomb gets another step closer to completion!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FOGBANK

  5. Seb says:

    Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly are these small chunks of aerogel useful for? I know it’s good as an insulating material, but it has to be made in sheets… Is there any use for small pieces like these? Or is he making them, well, just for fun?

  6. Tobias says:

    TMOS is short for tetramethoxysilane, not tetramethylsilane. You need the oxygen of the methoxygroup for forming the SiO2 network.

  7. RB says:

    Thats weird, If Tetramethylsilane isn’t illegal to have then why is it so controlled?

    • Truth says:

      It boils at room temperature and is flammable. High insurance and possible very bad PR is probably why it is not easy to get.

      • Truth says:

        If the motor vehicle was never invented back in 18whatever, then high octane Petrol would probably be just as difficult to get your hands on.

      • Tony says:

        In 50 years time your Grandkids will say ‘you drove around with a tank full of what? Were you people crazy?’

        And it is crazy, especially when you consider most people are crap drivers. We just all pretend it isn’t. :)

        • Robert Moore says:

          We now have “sugar” fuel cells with 10x storage of lithium batteries. If civilization survives the next dozen years Elon’s Tesla car may run on sugar beet juice. Graphene as an additive may solve the brittleness aspect. Nano tubes have been added, I think. And sheets have been made. Graphene is one atom thick carbon stronger than steel, a whole new industry.

    • Dan Vizine says:

      It does not boil at room temp. He’s thinking of a silane.
      TMOS & TEOS both react with the moisture in your eyes, slowly turning into sand. Irreversible eye damage from a splash. Other than that it’s just another relatively volatile, quite flammable liquid.
      The big chemical houses won’t sell ANYTHING to joe public. Everyone is so frightened of chemicals (oh, also ignorant), it’s pathetic.

      • Dr. F. says:

        However, as someone with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, who ran Sigma Aldrich’s custom synthesis group for 8 years, has supervised myriad chemists and run thousands of chemical reactions, I can understand and appreciate why chemical companies do not sell to “Joe Public”, who has neither the knowledge nor the training to handle most of these materials. They are protecting themselves from potential lawsuits, preventing you from setting fire to or detonating your home or your neighbor’s home, or just plain injuring or killing yourself or someone else. And by the way, although I haven’t worked at Sigma Aldrich in over a decade, I am still well-known there, but they still will not ship chemicals to me at my home. I must buy through the college where I teach.

  8. tom says:

    badass workshop

  9. Dan Vizine says:

    Incidentally, as of 11/22 TEOS can be found on ebay.

  10. norman says:

    please i need to no the percentage of ammoniac in the ammonium hydroxide solution for solution B. please reply .

  11. M.A.Khan says:

    Hey Ben i was just thinking that putting a superconductor in aerogel insulation can help it retain its superconductivity for a longer time by maintaining low temp. that can have great application. Btw what u did is pretty awesome.

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