ElectroHeat was commissioned to custom design a rotation oven for the company Svenska Aerogel. The client is conducting research on the material aerogel, which is used by NASA in spacecrafts, and has now developed a new exciting substance which they call Quartzene. The oven from ElectroHeat now contributes to Quartzene being able to start industrial production on a large scale.
– Can you build an oven for us? We need an enclosed space without electrical components inside the oven. It must be a rotation oven that is vacuum-insulated and around ten meters long. We will use it to make one ton of hydrophobic Quartzene a week, all year round!
– It sounds exciting, said Joel Lagerkvist from the oven manufacturer ElectroHeat in Gothenburg.
And it is exciting, because Quartzene is a product that can change the properties of many products where the substance is added, but what exactly is it? It looks like a kind of powder, and when it is added to a material such as concrete, wood, plaster or paint, the insulation properties are improved – and fire safety properties also increase. If the air needs to be purified from hazardous substances, the Quartzene can be used in the manufacturing of air filters, where the manufacturer adds a substance that traps the unwanted substance from the air.
If you succeed in doubling the insulation capacity in, for example, mineral wool by adding Quartzene, the energy consumption is halved. You then only need half the thickness of the mineral wool while maintaining the insulation capacity, which of course is very interesting for a house constructor.
A company in Gävle that has developed aerogel material for 20 years
The company that needed an oven is called Svenska Aerogel. They are located in Gävle and have for the last 20 years further developed the material aerogel to a whole new level of exciting application possibilities. The newly developed material is called Quartzene. Aerogels have been used by NASA in the manufacturing of spacecrafts where the substance played a role in e.g. heat-insulated shields. The production has been expensive, but in Gävle the problems with production on a large scale are solved, and now the doors are being opened for industrial handling of the substance.
– We have manufactured Quartzene on a smaller scale for a few years. Laboratory tests at various manufacturers around the world have now successfully shown that the product is ready to be produced on a large scale, says production manager Nestor Wallberg on a tour of the 5,000 square meter factory in Gävle. One of four production lines has now been completed and put into operation to be tested. It will produce 225 tonnes of Quartzene on an annual basis, but three identical production lines are planned to be housed in the same building. Once the entire factory is completed, 900 tons of Quartzene will be manufactured annually and distributed around the world, for use in various products.
Quartzene can be used to trap gas in air filters
– An air filter in particular is interesting, in such a case Quartzene doped with a capture molecule (whose property is to capture, for example, ethylene gas) can be added during the production of the filter, says Nestor.
Ethylene gas is formed when an apple rots. When healthy apples are exposed to ethylene gas, they also start to rot. In a storage room where fruit and vegetables are stored, an air filter that absorbs the ethylene gas could extend the life of the fruit. Such attempts have been made with excellent results. There is also a need in process industries to purify the discharge of water in filters by adding specific substances, such as certain hydrocarbons. Then the Quartzene provides capture molecules in the manufacturing of filters. Filters can be specially designed for a specific area of use.
Another area that is being researched is to add Quartzene in the manufacture of paints where the substance changes not only the viscosity, but also the thermal insulating properties of the paint. If you paint water pipes with such a color, the pipes are insulated and the condensation is thus avoided. If you paint wood with a transparent color, the highest fire protection class is achieved!
The Quartzene from Gävle is transported to manufacturers all over the world
The Quartzene that is manufactured in Gävle now goes to various manufacturers around the world where it is tested and investigated how each manufacturer´s particular material can be improved. If you mix Quartzene with water-repellent molecules in the production of textile fibers, can you make the world’s best raincoat? Only the future may show, currently there is a lot of focus on color and surface condition, thermal insulation and filtration. Many manufacturers are developing their products around clean air and clean water – research areas where Quartzene can bring about great improvement.
Process engineer Kalle Gustafsson and production engineer Lars Nilsson have been involved in making the requirement specifications for the unique furnace.
– Quartzene, which is a further development of the airgel, is in its basic form either hydrophilic or hydrophobic, and the type you want to produce is controlled in production. The oven is required for it to turn hydrophobic, i.e. water-repellent, which is desirable for some areas of use, for example thermal insulation, says Lars Nilsson.
A 24-hour process in the rotation oven that produces one ton a week
The process takes place inside the oven for around 24 hours, where the air is replaced with nitrogen gas to create an inert environment. This way additive chemicals can be pumped in and the right process conditions can be achieved. Since the oven is vacuum-sealed, the desired environment is maintained.
The ingredients react with each other as they are tumbled around in the oven. Slats inside the oven ensure that it is mixed properly and “baked” at an exact temperature where the degree number is an important part of the secret manufacturing process.
– The goal is for each batch to result in 500 kilo-amounts, and we will manage one ton of hydrophobic Quartzene a week with the new furnace, says process engineer Kalle Gustafsson.
The industrial oven manufacturer ElectroHeat in Gothenburg, which was commissioned to build the unique rotation oven, were you faced with difficulties when it came to designing this special unit?
-Even though we were not familiar with what Quartzene really was, we have extensive experience in custom-built furnaces for industrial applications. It’s a huge rotary vacuum oven with high demands regarding temperature accuracy and reliability. So there were many challenges, says Joel Lagerkvist.
The customer was satisfied with the rotation oven
– ElectroHeat was responsive to our ideas and was quick to present a proposal for a rotation oven, where we only needed to go ahead with a few detailed questions. It was nice to have such a close and easy collaboration, says Kalle Gustafsson and Lars Nilsson.
Facts about aerogel and Quartzene:
- Aerogel is an extremely porous substance, a particle consists of 99.98% air. Most are thus “partitions” in the structure that can carry the desired properties.
- Aerogel is fireproof, insulating and can be added or “doped” with different properties based on what it’s supposed to be used for.
- Quartzene is a Swedish further development of aerogel.
- If you could unfold 15 grams of Quartzene, you would get a surface that corresponds to the size of the Globe in Stockholm!
Aerogel is manufactured in solid form, while Quartzene is manufactured as a powder. Silicon, water and energy are the main ingredients, add water glass, sulfuric acid and baking soda which are mixed in vacuum and heat for 24 hours, and you get hydrophobic Quartzene. Do not forget the salt!
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