Release Date: March 27, 2019
BUFFALO, N.Y. — University at Buffalo researcher Shenqiang Ren has been awarded a $1,875,000 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to develop a new, inexpensive insulating material that could be used in homebuilding, space travel and other areas.
The grant, awarded by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), is one of 19 projects announced last month by the agency.
“This $1.8 million federal funding grant from the Department of Energy will be critical in assisting with research on this innovative and exciting new material. It’s a great example of how federal investment can play a role in the development of potentially groundbreaking technologies that benefit all corners of society. This grant also continues to recognize and reinforce UB’s standing as a leading research institute,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.
The awards are intended to “drive innovation in early-stage research and development for advanced building technologies and systems that will serve as a foundation for future technological developments and reductions in building energy consumption. These technologies will improve the efficiency of our nation’s buildings and will help American consumers and businesses save energy and money on their utility bills,” according to a DOE news release.
“Technological innovations enable energy-efficiency advances in the buildings sector, providing a tremendous opportunity to reduce energy waste and costs — boosting the competitiveness of U.S. companies and easing energy bills for American families,” said David Nemtzow, director of DOE’s Building Technologies Office.
Ren, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and UB’s RENEW Institute.
He will lead a research team that includes:
The team will use the award to reduce the cost of producing silica aerogel, a synthetic gel with low thermal conductivity. Having low thermal conductivity makes it an effective insulator.
“Anywhere you have insulation, from houses and space vehicles to pipelines and clothing, there is potential for aerogels to improve performance,” Ren said. “The drawback is that’s it often too expensive for large-scale adoption.”
For most aerogels, there is a long and expensive supercritical drying process. Ren and colleagues are developing a different, ambient-pressure drying approach. It’s simpler, quicker, less expensive and more eco-friendly because water is the main solvent instead of toxic chemicals, Ren said.