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.


30 thoughts on “Making Aerogel At Home

  1. 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. 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.

      1. 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. 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?

    1. Wow, eliminating 20% of greenhouse gases sounds pretty lame huh? While ranting I wanted to mention, even on the nanoparticle level (think super thin layers required) the addition of polyethylene 500nm plastic “dots” (length of solar rays) into the mixture produces a net cooling effect of 20 deg. when used as a solar barrier for buildings, clothing…

      1. 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. :)

        1. 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.

          1. preposterous. sugar based chemistry has been shown to have a theoretical energy density 10x of production Li cells. The major problem with this statement is that the theoretical energy density of Li cells is MORE THAN 10X the energy density of production Li cells. Do you see the problem with the claim?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. And as a “joe public’ who has supervised Ph.D. chemists for 24 years while doing my own bench chemistry, including coming to help Sigma-Aldrich (out in the boonies in Wisconsin) unit when they couldn’t correctly prepare an oxygen-selective adsorbent for us at Praxair, I know that I don’t need Sigma-Aldrich to tell me what I can do safely. I have make half-pound ampoules of pristine potassium and sodium metal, multi-hundred gram batches of HCN, Thorium, Cesium, Bromine and Rubidium in my basement for the last five years. Check out the science-madness website to see what “Dan Vizine” and “Zan Divine” makes at home. Sorry, no explosions or deaths yet. But you keep watching the obits., if you think that’s my fate. Or, you may even want to buy my custom ampoules of nasties at a website called

          I once came to your main research lab downtown. The labs were that not as well set-up as my basement. Really, tubs and lines everywhere and a lobby that smeled like acid chlorides. Beat equipment.I also have a fume-hood, I’m a proficient glass blower, have a buchii roto-vap, all the saftey gear including a newly acquired self-contained breathing appratus, and on and on and on. I see little difference between your downtown facility and my basement. Why not just kill all the lawyers and let knowledge march on? Oh yeah, because we’ve become a society where children wear helmets and knee-pads to ride bikes and dodgeball is a metally crippling disgrace.

          I suppose that sums up my personal point of view.

  4. 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.

  5. William Wood of Bakersfield, CA made aerogel when he was in the 6th grade using a system much as described here. He entered it in the science fair at Standard Elementary School but they disqualified him because they said it was a demonstration and not science. I believe, however, that it was the first time aerogels were made at home without expensive lab equipment. I believe hackaday may have done a story on it years ago. Even then they got it from the way back machine web site.

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