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.

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Make your own Aerogel


Our own [Eliot] dug this one up from the grave. While the recipe has been online for a while, do you know many 10 year olds who made their own Aerogel, that wonderful insulator that’s essentially gelled air? [William] made some(cache) for his science project in 2002. He started with Silbond H5, a combination of ethyl alcohol and ethyl polysilicate. You can get the MSDS after a painless email registration on the Silbond website. After the gel is formed you have to soak it in an alcohol bath to make sure all water has been removed from the structure. Then the gel is placed in a drying chamber. Liquid CO2 is forced into the chamber to displace all the alcohol in the chamber and the structure. Once the the alcohol is gone the supercritical drying phase begins. The temperature is raised to 90degF and the pressure is regulated to 1050psi. At this point the liquid CO2 in the gel structure takes on gas properties (looses surface tension) and leaves the silica structure. All that remains in the chamber is your new Aerogel which is 99% empty space and 1000 times less dense than glass.

Of course, if you’re lazy, you can buy some here.