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KSC Researchers Develop a New Composite Material, Aeroplastic

Researchers at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) have developed a new series of polymer composite materials that offer an alternative for products that desire a reduction in thermal - heat or cold - transfer, with potential applications in aerospace, cryogenics, oil and gas, construction, automotive, military, electronics, wood plastics, food packaging, medical, and textile markets. 

 

These Aeroplastic composite materials, which have properties that are not necessarily all present in their respective or pure components, offer reduction in heat transfer and thermal conductivity by adding aerogels into commodity grade and engineering grade polymers using current polymer extrusion and injection molding processes.

The KSC patented and patent pending materials are made from a blend of thermoplastic or thermoset polymers with appropriate aerogel loadings and can be combined with other additives, such as non-halogenated flame retardants, for a combination of enhanced properties.  The composites can be fabricated into fibers, molded, or otherwise processed into useable articles. Use of this technology reduces the thermal conductivity of the base polymer between 20%-50% while maintaining most mechanical properties. These materials may be useful as substitutes for metals in cryogenic and other low-temperature applications and offer, in certain polymer systems, increased ductility for applications on Earth as well as in space exploration. One specific aerospace application of the polymeric composition is for use in tanks, pipes, valves, structural supports, and components for hot or cold fluid process systems where heat flow is not desired. This material can also be used for construction and building products, such as in wood plastics, where energy conservation is a primary goal.  Sports equipment and performance apparel could be developed to take advantage of the reduction in heat transfer properties of the new composite.

Some market analyses indicate that the U.S. demand for plastic film is expected to grow to a value of more than $15 billion in 2018, and the wood plastic composite market alone is projected to grow to $5 billion by 2019.  Included in these demanding markets are needs for engineered composites with improved thermal efficiency that can be used in both commercial and consumer goods.  A significant decrease in thermal conductivity of a storage container can keep food hotter or colder for a longer period of time and can conserve energy.  These engineered composites can also make garments more breathable, keeping a person cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In refrigerated transport of temperature sensitive items, these new materials could retain more uniform and stable thermal conditions with energy savings. For the cryogenic industries, improved seals/gaskets for fluid process systems are needed and this material can also be used in components in which thermal isolation is important, such as in engines, motors, computers, and all types of heat-generating devices/equipment.

This technology was awarded a TechConnect Innovation Showcase Award in 2015 and was included as a part of a Techbrief Webinar aeries “Aerogel Hybrid Composite Materials: Designs and Testing for Multifunctional Applications” on April 21, 2016.  The technology is currently being evaluated by multiple companies under NASA’s Technology Transfer Program for possible commercialization under a license with NASA for multiple applications. NASA continues to seek licensees and partnerships for this innovative technology.

 

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