New Super-insulating Gel Could Help Build Habitat On Mars

Posted: Aug 14 2018, 8:50am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 14 2018, 10:25am CDT, in Latest Science News


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New Super-insulating Gel could Help Build Habitat on Mars
Credit: NASA

The super-insulating gel could protect humans from big oscillations in temperature that they would experience on Mars or on the moon

It’s hard enough to send humans to Mars. But once they get there, they will need a reliable life-supporting habitat.

Researchers from University of Colorado, Boulder have figured out a way to create such greenhouse-like habitat for colonists on Mars. They have developed a new, super-insulating gel that could increase the energy efficiency of buildings on Earth and could one day power habitats on Mars.

The new form of highly-efficient insulating gel looks like a flattened plastic contact lens and is so resistant to heat that you could set fire to your arm after applying it and feel nothing. The material is see-through compared to other similar products in market.

"Transparency is an enabling feature because you can use this gel in windows, and you could use it in extraterrestrial habitats," said Ivan Smalyukh, a professor at CU Boulder. "You could harvest sunlight through that thermally-insulating material and store the energy inside, protecting yourself from those big oscillations in temperature that you have on Mars or on the moon."

The new aerogel is also cheaper and scalable for mass production because it is extracted from beer waste. The material, known as an aerogel, is ultralight and porous. It has thin films inside its structure that are made up of crisscrossing patterns and these patterns can trap air inside billions of tiny pores, like bubbles in bubble wrap. Their trapping capacity makes them good for heat transfer and energy storage.

To make new gel, researchers began with the common plant sugar cellulose but they constructed its molecules in a lattice-like pattern, giving the gel its transparent appearance.

Unlike other standard opaque aerogels, the new aerogel can be used to coat windows. Windows causes tremendous heat loss and potentially cost building operators billions of dollars per year. If a building is better insulated, it will require less energy to achieve a desired room temperature. Further improvement in the material could also make future Mars colonization a little more feasible.

"We're envisioning a retrofitting product that would basically be a peel-and-stick film that a consumer would buy at Home Depot," said researcher Andrew Hess. "Our approach so far has been around windows. However, we also see our technology being enabling for so many other applications, including smart clothes, for insulating cars and protecting firefighters."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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