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Case Western Reserve University engineers hit pay dirt with clay mixture

ased materials.

Graduate student Matt Gawryla has since received a President's Opportunity Grant to expand clay aerogel composite experiments.

"We have put together an army of graduate and undergraduate researchers on a shoestring budget and produced a gold mine of papers and patents," said Schiraldi.

Aeoroclay materials feel and act like foam, without the injection of gas bubbles or the use of environmentally unfriendly CFC blowing agents.

Recently, the group went even greener by combining clay, water and the milk protein, casein, found in waste water left over from making cheese. This milk protein is the same substance farmers once used to produce durable white milk paint for their barns.

What has resulted with the milk protein is a bio-based polyamide (a high temperature polymer) with insulating properties to withstand heat at temperatures of 300 degrees centigrade. Currently, oil-based polymer foam insulation degrades at high temperatures, says Schiraldi. Clay aerogel composites have the potential to insulate hundreds of miles of noninsulated piping carrying high-temperature materials throughout refineries.

But milk is not the only bio-based substance the group has used. He has also experimented with the seaweed protein alginate used to thicken ice creams and materials from corn like corn starch, but overall casein continues to produce a better product.


Before joining the university faculty, Schiraldi spent 20 years as a research scientist at Hoechst Celanese, one of the world's largest chemical companies. The original aeroclay was made when a graduate student working with Schiraldi mixed clay and water in a blender and then freeze-dried the substance. The technique produced a layered, cotton-like substance.

Initially the two researchers thought a mistake had been made, so Schiraldi sent the grad student back to the lab. When he didn't hear from the stud

Contact: Susan Griffith
Case Western Reserve University

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