Aerogels, highly porous and light as a feather, are considered promising materials of the future. The Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area (ERA) goes to the “AeroAlle” project. It wants to make the (almost) all-rounders better known.
They are spectacular materials. Those who know aerogels rave about them because they can do almost anything.
The “NanoHybrids” project has dealt with this wonderful material. Twelve research institutes and industrial partners from Germany, France, Greece, Russia, Sweden, Turkey and Great Britain worked together under the leadership of the Hamburg University of Technology. From 2015 to 2019, the project, for which the Institute of Thermal Process Engineering coordinated by Prof. Irina Smirnova pulled the threads together, was funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. The aim was to further develop production processes for organic aerogel particles and to produce larger quantities of these novel materials for the first time. Until now, aerogel particles based on natural raw materials such as alginate, chitosan, cellulose or synthetic polymers as well as hybrid materials could only be produced in small laboratory quantities. In order to transfer these materials from research to industrial applications, the manufacturing process time had to be shortened and made more stable in order to produce organic aerogel particles in a defined form and sufficient quantity. The challenge was to ensure the high porosity and internal pore size distribution of the particles to achieve the structural properties required for the targeted applications. In June 2018, the first plant for the production of aerogels in particle form on a pilot scale of 50 litres per batch was set up in the TUHH pilot plant.
“AeroAlle” for the general public
Irina Smirnova’s team has found that aerogel, as the lightest solid material in the world, is a source of enthusiasm among the general public, but is too little known and hardly advertised. This is about to change, as her team has convinced the jury of the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area (ERA). To this end, the Institute of Thermal Process Engineering at TU Hamburg (TUHH) will cooperate with the “Kinderforscher at TUHH” initiative for young researchers at the Institute of Technical Biocatalysis. The plan is to use the “AeroAlle” project on the website www.kniffelix.de to inform the general public in an understandable way about current EU research on aerogels and their application. In doing so, the partners are relying on a Kniffelix community that has already been won through existing cooperations. Through “AeroAlle” on the Kniffelix-4 platform, young people will be offered insights into the exciting German and European research on aerogels, so that they can make knowledge-based decisions when choosing their courses at school and their later career or study choices. In addition, the platform will offer active experimentation phases as well as learning games. Visitors can exchange information with each other and with researchers.
Ralf-Dahrendorf-Prize for the European Research Area
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research has awarded the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area for the first time in 2019. With this award, it recognises outstanding achievements by researchers in European projects and promotes science communication. The prize is linked to the task of sharing the knowledge gained in research with society. In this way, more people should learn about the results of their projects and be able to discuss them.