Aerogels are considered ideal candidates for various applications, because of their low bulk density, highly porous nature, and functional performance. However, the time intensive nature of the complex fabrication process limits their potential application in various fields. Recently, incorporation of a fibrous network has resulted in production of aerogels with improved properties and functionalities. A facile approach is presented to fabricate hybrid sol–gel electrospun silica‐cellulose diacetate (CDA)‐based nanofibers to generate thermally and mechanically stable nanofiber aerogels. Thermal treatment results in gluing the silica‐CDA network strongly together thereby enhancing aerogel mechanical stability and hydrophobicity without compromising their highly porous nature (>98%) and low bulk density (≈10 mg cm−3). X‐ray photoelectron spectroscopy and in situ Fourier‐transform infrared studies demonstrate the development of strong bonds between silica and the CDA network, which result in the fabrication of cross‐linked structure responsible for their mechanical and thermal robustness and enhanced affinity for oils. Superhydrophobic nature and high oleophilicity of the hybrid aerogels enable them to be ideal candidates for oil spill cleaning, while their flame retardancy and low thermal conductivity can be explored in various applications requiring stability at high temperatures.
Silica-based aerogels are a promising low-cost solution for improving the insulation efficiency of single-pane windows and reducing the energy consumption required for space heating and cooling. Two key material properties required are high porosity and small pore sizes, which lead to low thermal conductivity and high optical transparency, respectively. However, porosity and pore size are generally directly linked, where high porosity materials also have large pore sizes. This is unfavorable as large pores scatter light, resulting in reduced transmittance in the visible regime. In this work, we utilized preformed silica colloids to explore methods for reducing pore size while maintaining high porosity. The use of preformed colloids allows us to isolate the effect of solution conditions on porous gel network formation by eliminating simultaneous nanoparticle growth and aggregation found when using typical sol–gel molecular-based silica precursors. Specifically, we used in situ synchrotron-based small-angle x-ray scattering during gel formation to better understand how pH, concentration, and colloid size affect particle aggregation and pore structure. Ex situ characterization of dried gels demonstrates that peak pore widths can be reduced from 15 to 13 nm, accompanied by a narrowing of the overall pore size distribution, while maintaining porosities of 70%–80%. Optical transparency is found to increase with decreasing pore sizes while low thermal conductivities ranging from 95 +/− 13 mW/m K are maintained. Mechanical performance was found to depend primarily on effective density and did not show a significant dependence on solution conditions. Overall, our results provide insights into methods to preserve high porosity in nanoparticle-based aerogels while improving optical transparency.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- American Institute of Physics
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- The Journal of Chemical Physics
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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