You may have read about aerogel as an insulator or seen Youtube videos of its rather surprising properties. What you may not realize is that aerogels are not a chemical composition, but rather a physical structure. They can be produced from silica, carbon, even aluminum and plastic. Their lightness and insulating properties come from their structure, but everything else (flammability, strength,durability, toxicity, etc.) comes from the base material.
Aerogels were first produced in the 1930's. You might think that by now we'd have found many wonderful applications for these in areas like clothing and home insulation. In fact, although such applications do exist, the cost of production has been too high to allow much competition from this class of product.
That's starting to change. New aerogels can be up to 15 times lighter than plastics, can be machinable, strong and appropriate for a wide range of applications. It's easy to imagine that the quest for higher automobile mileage might incorporate aerogels and similar applications in aircraft might also be possible. Who knows what else?
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