2022 saw the aerogels market take a large leap forward with the success of electric vehicle (EV) batteries as an application. Historic growth has been steady for other applications, but with the growth fuelled by the EV market, there is the opportunity for several other applications to take advantage of the scaling production volume. Whilst EVs may take the lion's share of IDTechEx's long-term forecast for aerogels, IDTechEx still predicts a 7.4% CAGR between 2022 and 2034 for the aerogel market excluding EV battery applications.
Silica Aerogel Revenue by Application (excl. EVs). Source: IDTechEx
Thermal insulation for industrial, oil & gas, and construction markets
The primary benefit of aerogels is their excellent thermal insulation properties, which has seen them be adopted as insulation in several markets. The largest portion of this has been in industrial applications, including refineries. For example, insulating a distillation tower with aerogels leads to greater energy efficiency by not losing as much heat to the surrounding atmosphere. The hydrophobicity of composite aerogel blankets can also help prevent corrosion. Aspen Aerogels has its products in use at most of the world's largest oil producers, refiners, and petrochemical companies.
Another common application is insulating oil and gas pipelines; in addition to the advantages above, the low-density (lightweight) nature presents significant advantages for subsea pipelines, meaning smaller boats can install the lines. An emerging way to apply aerogels to these lines is as coatings that can be sprayed or brushed onto the lines, like the ones made by Aerogel UK, allowing for easier application.
The use of aerogels in building and construction is a growing area. The main advantages aerogels present here are acoustic insulation, moisture regulation, and fire resistance. Payback time will depend greatly on the scenario, but for aerogels, this will typically be longer than incumbent insulation, given the higher upfront cost of aerogels. IDTechEx think there would be significant challenges in being a like-for-like replacement for incumbent low-cost insulating material. The real success will be in areas with strict regulation changes around fire retardance.
The major challenge aerogels have faced in adoption as insulation is the competition from incumbent materials with a much lower cost point. An argument can be made for energy efficiency in the long term, which has been highlighted by rising energy costs in many parts of the world. Additionally, as aerogel manufacturers scale up to serve the EV market, and with some developing lower-cost production methods, we could see the cost of aerogels move towards incumbent materials, further aiding their adoption.
Thermal insulation in electronics
It isn't just large-scale factories and refineries that need thermal insulation. Smartphones are becoming increasingly power-dense, and the inclusion of 5G mmWave antenna has presented some new challenges. The surface of a smartphone must not reach temperatures that could be harmful to users; this means thermal throttling (reducing device performance) once temperatures rise. Due to the poor signal propagation with mmWave, these antenna are located near the surface of the device and can generate a fair amount of heat. W.L. Gore produces an aerogel insulation specific to this application, which thermally insulates the surface of the device from the antenna but also does not block the mmWave signal thanks to the material's low dielectric constant. As devices continue to add more performance to a similar-sized package, this could provide a good opportunity for aerogel insulation.
Other emerging application areas
IDTechEx's recent aerogels research report has identified over 20 different application markets that aerogels have been, or could be considered for use in. Some interesting areas include insulating windows with transparent aerogel insulation, insulating apparel like gloves and jackets, and cold chain packaging. There is also interest in cosmetics for removing oils from the skin and even in a medical setting for tissue or bone engineering. There are many others, and each of these will have its own challenges and levels of commercial success. Following further capacity expansions by suppliers and more market penetration in promising applications, aerogels could make their way into some of these less established markets.
IDTechEx has been studying the aerogel industry for many years, with technical experts conducting an extensive number of primary interviews and detailed assessments of this industry. IDTechEx's latest report on "Aerogels 2024-2034: Technologies, Markets and Players"" benchmarks aerogels against other fire protection materials for EV battery packs, along with the players, their revenue, capacity, and market progress. The report also dives into the applications considered in this article with players, potential, and market forecasts, including oil & gas, LNG pipelines, electronics, and more.
For more information on this report, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Aerogels, or for the full portfolio of Advanced Materials research available from IDTechEx please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/AM.