We first featured the wonder product Aerogel back in 2003 when we wrote about a high performance jacket designed for mountain climbers. The €1900 coat is just one item in a rapidly growing stable of commercial products based around this wonder material, which was developed in 1931 by Dr Samuel Kistler in the US.
Despite its amazing thermal insulation properties and an absolute slew of world records (lowest density solid, lowest thermal conductivity, lowest speed of sound through a material etc) the material has not caught the public imagination in the same way as plastic did in the 1960s. This is probably because aerogel is relatively expensive to produce, and in most forms is very fragile in use.
In order to counteract this lacklustre commercial performance, it seems that the leading organization behind the material, Aerogel Technologies, has sponsored a sort of faux open source initiative to bring the technology to the masses. The website – Open Source Aerogel – provides detailed information the various types of aerogel, recipes to help you make your own, and even instructions on how to construct your very own supercritical dryer which is an essential part of the process.
There are limitations to all this free information however. For one thing, although it’s possible to make a dryer in a school lab or a garage, you’re not allowed to create a machine to sell or create Aerogel to sell. In the end the whole things come down to a very restricted interpretation of the phrase open source.
And since the whole process is super engineering top-heavy anyway, it’s unlikely that this patent lawyer controlled attempt to open up the technology will do anything more to encourage innovation and wider adoption. It’s a typical example of why scientific patents can end up costing the world dearly in terms of progress. Pfaf…
It’s a shame, because this stuff is really really amazing and with some decent crowdsourcing, could be used in all sorts of amazing ways. Watch this video for a quick demonstration of just one property: