We started out trying to realize an optically transparent, thermally insulating aerogel for solar thermal systems.
Evelyn Wang, professor
After five years’ work, an MIT team can now fabricate a transparent version of a silica aerogel, an ultralight material that blocks heat transfer. They have used their aerogel in a solar thermal collector to generate temperatures suitable for water and space heating and more—without using the expensive concentrators, special materials, and vacuum enclosures that have kept current solar thermal systems from being widely adopted. They have also demonstrated that inserting an aerogel into the gap in a double-pane window will make a product that’s both affordable and highly insulating. Finally, their work has generated guidelines that will help innovators design and fabricate aerogels with nanoscale structures tailored for high performance in other critical technologies.