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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Creation of hollow silica-fiberglass soft ceramics for thermal insulation


Hollow-structured materials show promise in thermal insulation because the shells encapsulating gaseous voids can interrupt heat transport pathways. Here, we present two low-cost routes to fabricate hollow silica nanoshells, via gas-phase and liquid-phase methods. The gas-phase synthesis method generates hollow shells by a droplet surface precipitation mechanism in a flame aerosol reactor. The liquid-phase synthesis route forms hollow shells by removal of a carbon template, which is produced by hydrothermal reaction of glucose. Both approaches (gas- and liquid-phase) provide hollow silica with amorphous structure, low thermal conductivity (0.023 and 0.026 W m−1 K−1), small particle size (442 and 383 nm), thin shell (35 and 36 nm), and low density (0.015 and 0.033 g cm−3). We employed high shear mechanical mixing to fabricate hollow silica-fiberglass composite ceramics. The resulting three-dimensional network provides the ceramics with robust mechanical elasticity and fire-retardancy while maintaining low thermal conductivity, dramatically outperforming an analogous material using commercial silica gel in place of the hollow nanoshells. Our findings provide two practical routes to synthesize hollow silica, either of which can be used to manufacture a class of hollow shell-fiber nanocomposite soft ceramics for energy-saving applications.

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