'The secret to AZFA's thermal tolerance lies in its unique microstructure, each fibre consisting of nanocrystalline zirconia and amorphous alumina. Also, the extraordinary mechanical resilience is endowed by the highly entangled and continuous 3D fibre network'
Dr Barbara Maciejewska
Future thermal insulation is lighter, more durable, and capable of withstanding extreme conditions. Researchers in this department have employed a scalable technique to develop ultralight fibre materials, alumina/zirconia fibrous aerogels (AZFA), which could reliably insulate heat in high temperatures, high humidity, and corrosion environments, revolutionising the thermal insulation in various industries. This study has been accepted by Advanced Composites and Hybrid Materials (20 September 2023) and is highlighted by Nanowerk.
Ceramic aerogels, such as the monolithic silica aerogels, are well-known as ultralight solid materials with a density five to ten times of the air. These materials have gained enormous attention due to their advantageous hardness and unparalleled thermal insulating performance. Traditional ultra-porous aerogels, however, suffer from (for example) brittleness, structural degradation and moisture absorption, remaining practically impossible for most applications.
The Nanomaterials by Design team of researchers in Oxford address these limitations by employing a pioneering technique called 3D sol-gel electrospinning to create ultralight, flexible, fibre-assembled aerogels. This new approach devised by the researchers enables the in situ formation of the 3D fibre assemblies with significantly reduced time consumption and low processing cost compared to most existing methods, offering a cost-effective and scalable solution for producing advanced thermal insulators.