Aerogels are extremely low-density solids, so called because they are typically formed from gels with the liquid component removed. Their low density gives them a variety of highly useful characteristics. First developed in the early 20th century, aerogels have found applications across numerous high-tech industries.
General Atomics focuses its aerogel research and development on applications for high-energy-density physics (HEDP). GA’s Inertial Fusion Technology group has developed carbon-hydrogen aerogels with densities approaching 1 mg/cc, among the lowest-density materials ever manufactured. When irradiated by high-energy lasers, or strong electromagnetic fields, these aerogels allow HEDP researchers to generate specific plasma conditions that are not accessible with targets made from full-density materials. In fact, a variety of new plasma regimes – such as bright x-ray sources and shock-driven hydrodynamic instabilities – can be studied by shooting elements in extremely low-density forms rather than in their native high-density form.
We have the ability to “dope” carbon aerogels with elements such as gold, copper, and aluminum. Because of their extremely low densities and small pore sizes, aerogels can hold 10 to 20 times their weight in nanoparticles of a doping element dispersed within the pores of the aerogel scaffold. This allows the fabrication of low-density aerogels of nanoparticles suspended within the micropores of the polymeric gel. The net effect is a low-density material composed primarily of an element that could not be fabricated in any other way. These doped aerogels behave similarly to a low-density gas composed of the doping element, which allows HEDP scientists to study the material’s properties in a specific plasma state.
In addition to doped aerogels, GA also has significant experience with metal and metal-oxide foams, and our researchers are exploring applications for advanced batteries and other energy storage technologies. We can custom-fabricate both foams and aerogels according to customer requirements.