A simple, mild, and effective template approach has been used to produce hollow silica nanospheres with controlled sizes ranging from 40 to 150 nanometers. The obtained powders showed systematic variations in measured thermal conductivity, with values down to 0.024 W/(mK) so far, with en expressed goal to reach below 0.020 W/(mK). Surface hydrophobization was successfully performed. Thus, hollow silica nanospheres are considered to be promising building blocks for new hydrophobic, superinsulating materials.
Monodisperse polystyrene (PS) spheres with controllable size have been synthesized by a straight forward and simple procedure. The as-synthesized PS spheres have a typical diameter ranging from ~180 nm to ~900 nm, where a reduced sphere size is obtained by increasing the polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP)/styrene weight ratio. The PS spheres function as sacrificial templates for the fabrication of hollow silica nanospheres (HSNSs) for thermal insulation applications. By modifying the silica coating process, HSNSs with different surface roughness are obtained. All resulting HSNSs show typically a thermal conductivity of about 20 mW/(mK), indicating that the surface phonon scattering is probably not significant in these HSNS samples.
The application of manufactured nanomaterials provides not only advantages resulting from their unique properties but also disadvantages derived from the high energy use and CO2 burden related to their manufacture, operation, and disposal. It is therefore important to understand the trade-offs of process economics of nanomaterial production and their associated environmental footprints in order to strengthen the existing advantages while counteracting disadvantages. This work reports the synthesis, characterization, and life cycle assessment (LCA) of a new type of superinsulating materials, nano insulation materials (NIMs), which are made of hollow silica nanospheres (HSNSs) and have great flexibility in modifying their properties by tuning the corresponding structural parameters. The as-prepared HSNSs in this work have a typical inner pore diameter of about 150 nm and a shell thickness of about 10–15 nm and exhibit a reduced thermal conductivity of about 0.02 W/(m K) because of their size-dependent thermal conduction at the nanometer scale. The energy and raw material consumption related to the synthesis of HSNSs have been analyzed by the LCA method. The results indicate that the recycle of chemicals, up-scaling production, and use of environmentally friendly materials can greatly affect the process of environmental footprints. New synthesis routes for NIMs with improved thermal performance and energy and environmental features are also recommended on the basis of the LCA study.