Product application in the industry

Aerogel: a new material with more than 7.5 times of scale in 4 years, stable "double carbon", new energy vehicle with multiple air outlets

1. What is aerogel?

Aerogel is a new type of nano porous solid material, which has excellent properties such as low thermal conductivity, high fire rating, good waterproof effect, wide temperature range, long service life, etc. It is an important substitute for traditional insulation materials such as rock wool, aluminum silicate needle blanket, etc.

At the initial stage, it was only used in high-end fields such as aerospace, national defense and military industry. Now, it has been widely used in petroleum and petrochemical, industry, building energy conservation, transportation, power and other fields. The application scenarios have been expanding, among which oil and gas is the most important downstream application field.

Aerogel material has a unique microstructure, which is composed of three to five silica nanoparticles in space to form a pore structure of 30 to 50 nm, giving it strong thermal insulation ability, light weight, long service life and other characteristics.

Compared with traditional thermal insulation materials, its thermal insulation performance is 2-8 times that of traditional materials, and the amount of aerogel is less under the same thermal insulation effect; The replacement cycle of aerogel is more than 15 years, while the replacement cycle of traditional insulation materials is about 5 years, so the use cost of the whole life cycle is lower. In addition, it has high fire rating, wide temperature range and waterproof effect, so it is becoming a new type of insulation material to replace the traditional one.

According to IDTechEX data, the oil and gas field is currently the most important application field of aerogel, accounting for 56% of the total demand in 2021, with another 18% used for industrial insulation, 9% for building construction, and 8% for transportation.

2. Why does the current node talk about aerogel?

The technology has brought about cost reduction, dual carbon trend and new energy vehicle safety demand, all of which are promoting the rapid increase of aerogel market penetration.

The aerogel industry in China started in the 21st century and is still in its early stage of development. In the past five years, the domestic aerogel market has achieved a rapid jump in output and a rapid decline in cost through technological progress. At present, it has a very competitive cost performance ratio in petrochemical pipelines, high-temperature reactors, heat supply network pipelines, and lithium batteries, and the downstream leading enterprises have strong switching demands.

At the same time, in the context of "carbon peaking and carbon neutrality", the oil and gas field needs to reduce the heat loss of high-temperature oil and gas pipelines, vigorously develop key carbon emission reduction fields such as building energy conservation and new energy vehicles, which is expected to significantly boost the demand for aerogels.

In the process of low carbon and zero carbon industrial transformation and upgrading of China's construction industry, the requirements for energy saving effects of building insulation materials are also becoming increasingly strict, which will stimulate the demand for new insulation materials with better performance and reduce the sensitivity to their costs.

In the field of new energy vehicles, the safety performance of lithium batteries has received much attention, but thermal safety has always been the pain point of lithium batteries.

The operating temperature range of the power battery pack is generally within+5 ℃ -+40 ℃. High temperature, overcharge, internal short circuit and mechanical damage may cause the thermal runaway of the lithium-ion battery pack, leading to fire or explosion. Lower than this temperature range may also lead to poor performance of the lithium-ion battery. The safety performance of lithium battery needs to be improved urgently. In May 2020, the Safety Requirements for Power Battery for Electric Vehicles issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology clearly stated that the battery system needs to be free from fire and explosion within 5 minutes after thermal runaway of the battery cell.

Generally speaking, fireproof and thermal insulation materials are used between the lithium battery cells and the upper covers of modules and PACKs, which can delay or prevent the thermal diffusion of the battery pack. Installing a fireproof layer between the battery compartment and the passenger compartment can effectively slow down the spread of fire, thus reducing the adverse effects of battery accidents.

With the advantages of low thermal conductivity, no toxic gas, light weight and thin thickness, aerogel can effectively solve the thermal insulation problem of power batteries in low temperature environment and the thermal runaway problem of power batteries in high temperature environment, and achieve effective thermal management of battery packs. It is a thermal insulation and flame retardant material for power batteries with excellent thermal insulation effect and better safety performance per unit volume.

For example, the high temperature resistance of SiO ₂ aerogel gel glass fiber felt composite is higher than 800 ℃, which can resist the transient impact of high temperature energy caused by the short circuit of the battery pack, and effectively prevent the chain effect caused by the overheating of single battery in the lithium-ion power battery box.

In addition, aerogel can also be applied to the whole car structure, such as roof, door frame, hood, etc., which can achieve the effect of heat preservation, energy conservation and emission reduction in the compartment, and can greatly reduce the space occupied. According to Aspen Aerogel, a subsidiary of NASA and a global leader in aerogel, the average aerogel product available per new energy vehicle is 7.32 square meters.

With the rapid development of the new energy industry and the progress of lithium batteries towards higher safety and higher energy density, the demand for aerogels in the power battery packs of new energy vehicles is expected to increase significantly.

In addition, aerogel is a potential hydrogen storage material due to its excellent adsorption performance.

The new nano porous carbon aerogel material has nanoscale pores, with a porosity of more than 80% and a specific surface area of 400-1600m ²/ g. It is a kind of porous adsorption hydrogen storage material with great potential and competitiveness, and is expected to be used in hydrogen fuel new energy vehicles and other fields in the future, and the demand space is expected to expand.

3.How big is the market space in the future?

With the continuous maturity of aerogel application technology, the continuous promotion of industrialization, and the strong support of superposition policies, the output and demand have been greatly increased in recent years.

In terms of output, the output of China's aerogel materials and aerogel products will be 121000 m3 and 154000 tons respectively in 2021, and the CAGR will be 20.8% and 32.6% respectively in 2016-2021. In terms of demand, China's demand for aerogel materials and aerogel products will be 119000 m3 and 179000 tons respectively in 2021, and CAGR will be 25.1% and 21.2% respectively in 2016-2021. In terms of market size, from 2018 to 2021, China's aerogel market size will grow from 925 million yuan to 1.756 billion yuan, with an annual growth rate of more than 20%.

In the future, in the context of energy conservation and emission reduction, with the continuous promotion of gel industrialization, its cost is expected to continue to decline. While the oil and gas field is the cornerstone of demand, construction, transportation and other emerging fields are becoming new drivers of demand growth for gel.

According to the data of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development and the National Bureau of Statistics, the mileage of oil and gas pipelines in China will reach 150000 km in 2021, and the mileage of central heating pipelines will reach 507000 km. It is assumed that the newly increased mileage of oil and gas and central pipeline heating in 2022-2025 is the average of the newly increased mileage in 2017-2021. The agency estimates that by 2025, the total demand for gas gel for oil and gas long-distance pipelines and central heating pipelines in China is about 923000 cubic meters, with a corresponding amount of about 12.46 billion yuan.

In the field of new energy vehicles, according to the data of China Automobile Industry Association, the sales volume of new energy vehicles in China will reach 3.521 million in 2021, with a year-on-year growth of 157.6%. China Passenger Transport Association predicts that the sales volume of new energy vehicles in China will reach 6 million in 2022, and IDC predicts that it will increase to 13 million in 2025. The Pan Asia Microporous Prospectus (released in 2020) mentioned that the use of SiO ₂ aerogel composite materials for each new energy vehicle is 2-5 square meters, and the price is about 100 yuan/square meter. On this basis, the agency calculated that by 2025, the demand space for aerogel for new energy vehicles in China is expected to increase to 1.95 billion yuan.

According to the prediction of Aspen Aerogel's 2020 annual report, the domestic demand for aerogel will reach 1 million m in 2025 ³/ In, the corresponding market space was about 15 billion yuan, an increase of more than 7.5 times over 2021; Global demand will reach 1.6 million m ³/ In, the market size reached 4.6 billion US dollars.

According to the Aspen forecast data quoted by Aibang Polymer, the market space of aerogel products in the field of electric vehicle thermal insulation will reach 30 billion dollars from 2021 to 2030, and the industry has a large growth space.

4. What are the enterprises in the industrial chain?

The aerogel industry chain includes upstream silicon sources, midstream aerogel gel material products and downstream applications.

Silicon sources can be divided into inorganic silicon sources and organic silicon sources according to different drying methods and preparation methods. Inorganic silicon sources include silicon tetrachloride and sodium silicate, while organic silicon sources include methyl orthosilicate and ethyl orthosilicate. Organic silicon sources are the mainstream routes in the current market.

Zhongyou Gas gel has a variety of products, represented by Nanuo Technology, Chenguang New Material, Hongbai New Material, Ellison and other manufacturers. The downstream application market of aerogel is relatively wide, and currently it is mainly concentrated in pipeline insulation industry, petrochemical industry, furnace insulation, building insulation, automobile insulation, cabin insulation, military field, aerospace and other fields.

First of all, from a technical point of view, the preparation process of aerogel is divided into two steps: preparing wet gel and drying wet gel by special methods. Drying process is the core process of producing gas gel, and the process includes supercritical drying, atmospheric drying, vacuum freeze drying and subcritical drying. Among them, supercritical drying is the earliest technology to realize batch preparation of aerogel, which is now relatively mature and widely used by domestic and foreign aerogel manufacturers.

In the short term, the technical barrier lies in the breakthrough of atmospheric drying technology.

Carbon dioxide supercritical drying technology is the earliest technology to realize mass production, and most of the current production capacity is mainly carbon dioxide supercritical. Atmospheric drying technology has the advantages of simple equipment and low cost. It is recognized that the industry will continue to reduce the cost of preparing aerogel through this technology. The difficulty of atmospheric drying technology lies in how to match atmospheric drying technology through formula design, industrial process design, equipment matching design, etc. At present, there are fewer aerogel companies with atmospheric drying technology in China, and only three companies are Nanuo Technology, Zhongning Technology and Yangzhong New Material.

In the long run, the cost of aerogel is determined by the access to silicon sources, so factors such as capacity scale and industrial chain integration need to be focused.

At present, the domestic production capacity of aerogel is mainly concentrated in the leading enterprise Ellison (70000 m ³/ Year) and Nano (30000 m ³/ Year).

Hongbai New Material has met the conditions for the construction of the production line for producing nano porous multifunctional aerogel materials, and is promoting the "construction project of functional aerogel production base". After completion, it will increase the annual capacity of 10000 cubic meters of functional aerogel. According to its 2021 annual report, the project is expected to release some capacity by the end of 2022, and gradually reach the capacity in 2023.

Through cooperation with Zhejiang University, Pan Asia Microporous has developed two kinds of high-performance SiO ₂ aerogel composites, which can be respectively used in automobile thermal insulation boxes and new energy power battery packs. Currently, there are 1604 cubic meters of aerogel and 240000 cubic meters of silica aerogel and e-PTFE membrane composite capacity under construction.

Chenguang New Material plans to build the "210000 ton/year silicon based new material and 5000 ton/year cobalt based new material project", including 50000 ton aerogel capacity. In addition, the company also plans to build a "23000 tons/year special silicone material project", including 2000 tons of aerogel production capacity.

Such enterprises are expected to gain a wave of development assistance during the high demand period of aerogel.