Aerogel insulation products make outdoor sports no longer cold


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Aerogel insulation products make outdoor sports no longer cold

  • Categories:NEWS
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  • Time of issue:2022-01-26 15:09

Aerogel insulation products make outdoor sports no longer cold

Outdoor brand founder Jon Rosenberg and his wife celebrated New Years in 2018 by camping in the Rocky Mountains on the longest, coldest night of winter, and they realized that the outdoor gear market still didn't fully account for such extreme conditions. In just one day, the battery of the camera his wife, a professional photographer, carried with her froze.
“Other insulation products can keep things cold for a week, but if you want to keep batteries or snacks from freezing, there’s no solution,” he says. But Roseber, who works in the outdoor gear industry, knows that NASA ) has pioneered a high-performance thermal insulation material that can keep cryogenic rocket fuel at minus 217 degrees Celsius in the Florida heat. The key to these insulating materials is a substance called aerogel.
Aerogels Expand Applications
The first aerogels were invented before NASA. They are made by removing all moisture from the gel (usually made of silica) while maintaining an intact solid structure. The resulting material is almost entirely air, stored in tight spaces. It is almost weightless and practically impervious to heat. However, it was also too fragile to be usable until NASA stepped in.
In the 1990s, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida was looking for better insulation to maintain the frigid temperatures needed to store space shuttle fuel. The best low-temperature thermal insulation material at that time was layered metallized film. This reflected radiant heat can be placed in a vacuum to prevent heat conduction or convection. But they are relatively expensive and heavy.
However, a company called Aspen Systems came up with the idea of ​​incorporating aerogels into flexible insulation felts.
With funding from Kennedy's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), and subsequently from several other NASA field centers, Aspen developed a process to coat insulating fibers with aerogel to trap air while preventing heat transfer.
First, Aspen treated the fibers to make them reflective and to help them bond to the aerogel. They are then soaked in a liquid aerogel precursor material and rapidly dried at high temperature and pressure to turn the liquid into a solid aerogel. Each fiber in the resulting mat is encased in an air-filled aerogel that prevents the fibers from contacting each other to conduct heat. Also, the air molecules trapped in the numerous microscopic pores of the aerogel cannot contact each other to transfer heat, and when squeezed or soaked, they cannot pass through the insulating material.
Today, NASA uses aerogels in a variety of ways, and Aspen Aerogels has been spun out to focus on operating what has become one of the most successful and extensive spin-offs in NASA history, incorporated into many outdoor apparel, construction, and Industrial thermal insulation materials and other fields.
One company that has recently entered the aerogel market is Latham, New York-based PrimaLoft, a brand known for high-performance thermal insulation since the 1980s. After a group of PrimaLoft employees visited the Aspen Aerogels manufacturing facility and were inspired, the company began developing two new lines of aerogel insulation products. Today, many brands are already leveraging NASA's latest foray into aerogels to create warmer outdoor gear.

PrimaLoft infuses microscopic aerogel particles into microfibers to create a new Cross Core insulation that is as fluffy and breathable as traditional jacketed insulation, but with 15 to 20 percent better thermal performance.


Aerogel thermal insulation product development

PrimaLoft started buying aerogel felts from Aspen, encapsulating them in a film to trap dust and making it easier to handle, and cutting them to size for boots and other gear to meet customer needs.

That product became the PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Airgel line, Rosenberg's choice for his new startup Cold Case Gear, through which he aims to create a line of pouches for protecting small essentials like batteries, electronics and snacks. Because aerogels trap air more efficiently than traditional materials, the insulation can be thinner while maintaining performance, making it ideal for small outer kits, he said.

In 2021, Cold Case of Pagosa Springs, Colorado begins full-scale production of its first product, the airtight, lightweight West Slope smartphone jacket.

Cold Case Gear founder Jon Rosenberg showed off his company's first product, a sealed, lightweight West Slope smartphone pouch made with PrimaLoft Gold Insulation Aerogel branded aerogel.

The thermal insulating properties of the aerogel allow the jacket to have a simple structure with only three layers of material, rather than the four to ten layers used in competing products, Rosenberg said. He said he eventually plans to expand to 10 or 12 products, all made in Colorado. He said he wanted to keep production local, ensure quality and minimize the carbon footprint of shipping products.

Another outdoor company using the new aerogel felt in several products also started with a mountainside insulation failure. Seattle-based Outdoor Research was founded in 1980 when its founder's climbing partner had to take a helicopter from Denali with frostbite feet. The company started making footwear for the most extreme winter climbs, and in 2019 updated that lineup with aerogel insulation, adding the material to gloves, camping shoes and beanies.

Outdoor Research incorporates aerogels into some of its gloves and footwear, making it thermally insulating when in contact with metal tools or cold objects like ice.

The company's director of commercial innovation, Alex Lauver, noted that encapsulated aerogel insulation isn't ideal for insulating the entire jacket because it's stiff and lacks breathability. But because it's thin, it can form a thermal barrier even under high pressure, making the material ideal for smaller areas against metal tools or cold objects like ice -- especially hands and feet.


Create better thermal insulation

More recently, PrimaLoft has created a new twist on NASA's pioneering aerogel insulation, a line of products called Cross Core, for use in outdoor apparel. It is a by-product of a manufacturing process that Aspen developed with NASA.

Instead of securing the aerogel around and between fibers, as Aspen did for NASA, the company figured out how to infuse Aspen aerogel particles inside the microfibers. The result is a fluffy, soft, breathable insulation material with 15% to 20% higher thermal properties than synthetic fibers without aerogels.

Although PrimaLoft eventually found a different supplier of aerogel particles, Dempsey said, "collaborating with Aspen was critical to the early development of this first-of-its-kind technology."

According to Ken Fisk, PrimaLoft's global communications manager, the development allows the outer body to be lighter in weight and thinner, and retain that performance when wet or compressed.

Dozens of apparel companies, including hunting apparel company SITKA Gear, have incorporated the new aerogel-infused insulation into consumer products, he said.


trap air

SITKA, now a subsidiary of Gore Corporation of America, was founded in 2006 and is headquartered in Bozeman, Montana. John Barklow, the company's large game product manager, said the company aims to let the hunting apparel industry keep up with modern mountaineering gear pace.

Its first Cross Core insulation product, the Kelvin Aerolite 30 sleeping bag, launches in summer 2021. It's designed to double as camping apparel, and includes a hood and armholes, among other things.

SITKA Gear's product using PrimaLoft Cross Core insulation - Kelvin Aerolite 30 Sleeping Bag

When traditional down insulation is compressed or wet, the feathers collapse. And Barklow explained that the aerogel-infused insulation is different. "Even when it's compressed, there's still air trapped in those fibers, so you're not just relying on the physical bulk of the garment. It keeps the garment surprisingly warm."

Shortly after releasing the Aerolite sleeping bag, SITKA decided to replace the treated down in all of the warmest outerwear with the Cross Core. Barklow said the aerogel material performed as well as conventional insulation in dry conditions and even better when wet, with half the thickness and much less weight. "It improves maneuverability and performance."

Decades after NASA made a relatively small investment in a new thermal insulation material for cryogenic rocket fuel, companies across industries continue to build on the invention, translating it into countless improved products, including Gear that now allows the bravest adventurers to forge frontiers on Earth.