A team of US engineers has created an aerogel that might hold the key to more efficient solar heating.
Material covered in the gel has been shown to store and retain heat up to 220ºC — a much higher capacity than conventional rooftop collectors, which produce temperatures of around 80ºC.
That means the gel would be able to provide solar heat for space heating, food processing and industrial processes. Resulting from research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the gel is made of a silica compound mixed with a catalyst in a liquid solution.
The resulting gel is a matrix consisting primarily of air, and with small pore spaces between its grains, meaning it scatters less light. The almost entirely transparent gel allows sunlight through, but prevents heat escaping.
“The material we use to increase the temperature acts like the Earth’s atmosphere does to provide insulation, but this is an extreme example of it,” said Lin Zhao, an MIT postgraduate student who worked on the project.