Unfortunately, aerogel isn't easy to make. In fact, it costs about $1,300 per pound to produce. But a Malaysian researcer at the Universiti Teknologi, Dr Halimaton Hamdan, has led a team of researchers who have created a way to produce aerogel that will be 80% cheaper.
What's more, the new aerogel is produced from rice husks, a discarded agricultural product. As you might expect, Malaysia has plenty of rice husks, so they're pretty excited about the possibility of turning them into something valuable. As such, the government has given Hamdan a $65 M grant to help develop a technique for the large-scale production of the new aerogels.
Hamdan's breakthrough was at first accidental. She wanted to do research on silica, but was having a hard time finding the raw material. One night, she saw a television program on the difficulty of disposing of rice husks. And rice husks, it turns out, are 20% silica. After eight years of work, Hamdan finally found a cheap way to produce pure silica from rice husks. And once the silica is acquired, making the aerogel is a cinch.
If Dr Hamdan and her colleagues are able to use that $65 M to scale up production of this material, we should soon be seeing it everywhere. If that happens, the energy savings would be incredible. As a bonus; the production of Maerogel (short for Malaysian Aerogel) would also make use of an abundant natural waste product.