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Reinforced silica aerogel
The often quoted high strength-to-weight ratio of silica aerogels is somewhat misleading as it is mostly due to their low density, rather than high strength. In fact, silica aerogels are notoriously brittle and can be quite dusty. Most reinforcement strategies result in an increase in strength, but at a high cost in thermal conductivity. In our lab, the reinforcement of silica aerogel could be reached by different strategies: i. Molecular approach: co-gelation of silica with biopolymers (e.g. pectin, chitosan) or synthetic prepolymers , and ii. Macroscopic reinforcing approach: impregnate silica into a biopolymer scaffold, e.g. freeze-dried cellulose , or fiber reinforced silica aerogel blankets [5-6]. The latter approach has been scaled-up to the pilot scale at Empa using an ambient pressure drying protocol . For both approaches, materials with a dramatic increase in mechanical strength can be produced, without compromising the ultra-low thermal conductivity.
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