Silica Aerogel: How to reduce energy demands of new homes

Easy way to dramatically reduce energy needs of homes

When analysing a business, there are three main ways to make it more profitable. Reduce expenses; increase sales or increase profit margins.

Often a business coach or accountant will focus on one of those areas in particular when trying to improve the bottom line of any business.

Of course the Holy Grail is when you can achieve all three at the same time.

I see a similar situation when it comes to our environment. We know we need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases for the future of this planet.

That debate has effectively finished. It has now moved on to the best way to achieve a reduction in our carbon dioxide levels.

We see a huge body of work in producing power in cleaner ways.

In previous columns I have spoken about wind farms and solar cells and even nuclear batteries.

If you continue on the business analogy, producing power with renewables could be seen as increasing sales. One method of improving the bottom line.

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On the flip side, the other way we can reduce our emissions is to require less electricity. Our electricity needs to have grown at a slower rate than our population growth due to energy efficiency measures.

Many households now have LED lights as one simple example.

Reducing energy requirements is akin to reducing our expenses in the business example.

This also helps our net situation.

Once again the Holy Grail is to achieve both simultaneously. And the average household is a great place to start.

Twenty-one per cent of households in Australia now have solar panels.

Australian households are responsible for 20 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Heating and cooling are responsible for 40 per cent of the energy we use in the average house.

If we could dramatically reduce our heating and cooling needs, that would go a long way to plugging 8 per cent of the emissions from this country.

Aerogel is a synthetic porous material that has tiny pockets of gas. Picture: Shutterstock

Aerogel is a synthetic porous material that has tiny pockets of gas. Picture: Shutterstock

The potential solution? Silica Aerogel.

Aerogel is a synthetic porous material that has tiny pockets of gas throughout the structure. Despite the name, it is a solid that has extremely low thermal conductivity.

Heat can be transferred by conduction, convection and radiation.

Convection relies on circulation of a liquid or a gas to transfer heat - but by trapping gas in small pockets, it limits heat transfer.

Conduction is the transfer of heat between substances that are in direct contact with each other. Aerogels can be made from metal, for example, but metal is a good conductor.

Silica Aerogel, on the other hand, has excellent insulation properties and therefore heat transfer via conduction is significantly reduced.

Silica Aerogel is low density, lightweight and insulates any area where it is used.

By utilising this substance in walls and ceilings of modern homes, the energy requirements of homes can be dramatically reduced.

Throw in some clever window technology utilising double-glazing, for example, and you start to build a home that is well and truly insulated against the outside elements.

The R value is a measure of thermal resistance for a substance.

The R value of Silica Aerogel is more than four times higher than the same thickness of traditional batts.

Aerogel sounds like new-age technology but it was first created back in 1931.

It is only now that modern manufacturing methods and increased volumes will see the material move from high-end industrial applications to replace traditional batts made from glasswool or fibreglass.

Not enough tech from just my weekly article? Search for 'Tech Talk by Mathew Dickerson' on your favourite podcasting app to add more weekly tech to your life.

  • Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.
This story Easy way to dramatically reduce energy needs of homes first appeared on The Canberra Times.