[Skip to Content]

Mechanically Strong, Flexible Polyimide Aerogels Available for License

Flexible Polyimide Aerogels Available for License

Aerogels are extremely low-density materials with excellent thermal and acoustic insulating properties based on their high porosity and small pore diameter. This makes them attractive candidates for many aerospace applications, such as insulation for cryotanks and spacesuits, as well as more down-to-Earth uses in construction, refrigeration, and pipe insulation. The main drawback that has prevented aerogels from having a broad commercial impact is their fragility.

All current aerogel products on the market today are silica-based, break down during handling and use, and shed small dust particles. Therefore, they must be encapsulated for most applications. In addition, insulation properties degrade over time as these small dust particles settle. In particulate form and within composite blankets, these aerogels have very little compressive or tensile strength and exhibit poor resistance to solvents. In addition, hydrophobic treatments that are necessary to keep the silica aerogel pore structure from collapsing in humid environments lower the thermal stability and cause out-gassing beginning at 350°C.

Conventional silica aerogels are fantastic insulators but crush easily and are difficult to work with. NASA’s Glenn Research Center has developed exceptionally strong polyimide aerogels that are up to 500 times stronger and have equivalent insulation ability to silica aerogels. As thin films, these polyimide aerogels are highly flexible, lightweight, and porous. Notably, the ability to fabricate the polyimide aerogels into thin films is a revolutionary advancement over silica aerogels. The innovation is technologically significant and unparalleled in the aerogel marketplace, as no other aerogel possesses the compressive and tensile strength of the Glenn polyimide aerogel while it simultaneously can be flexibly folded to contour to whatever shape is needed.

For more information on these aerogels, please contact Amy Hiltabidel at amy.hiltabidel@nasa.gov.