I think I remember reading about this stuff via the SDMB some time ago, an amazing insulator created by a crazy dude, that seemed to be real but that he refused to give up or sell the recipe for, and then died.
This guy provides a recipe that seems plausibly within the realm of what a crazy dude might come up with, while seeming to work as described by the original inventor:
Obviously, we'll never know if it's the correct recipe or not, but what do you think?
I think you’re right, it’s exactly the type of stuff a home inventor would come up with and be terrified of losing the secret to. The instant it’s discovered how simple the recipe is (watch the video, the uncoverer of the secret should get traffic to his channel) the inventor will be cut out of any theoretical profit.
Even if the product turns out to be fantastically useful, there’s no profit in it, not for the recipe of the product itself.
I was curious to know if anyone thought this actually seems like a strong scientific discovery? It seems to be an insulator that only works at very high temperature and which, I presume, needs to be fairly soft (?) and needs to be able to expand on one side. Is there likely to be a very wide range of applications? Or is this going to be an amazing substance that just happens to have no use case where one of its flaws won’t doom it?
I’m way, way out of my depth here, but the stuff is charred, albeit somewhat slowly. So, it is undergoing a chemical change. How long before all the available components are consumed and the insulating properties are gone? AIUI, things like the tiles on the Space Shuttle provide insulation without the material being changed/consumed. This material, while really cool, looks like it only buys a fairly limited time of heat resistance.
So the key is a material that continuously generates it’s own carbon foam impregnated with CO2. Carbon is highly heat resistant, foam structure makes it insulative, CO2 helps the carbon foam resist oxidation. Neat!
A long time ago, some TV program was sponsored by a chemical firm (Dow? Union Carbide? Dupont?) and the opening commercial showed a little cubical silvery box being dropped into a glass pot of boiling water. The voice-over told of a newly developed insulating material he said would revolutionize the way products were made. At the end of the spot, the cube was removed from the boiling water and opened to reveal a baby chicken, who seemed unharmed. The box looked like foil on the outside and white inside. We were all amazed, of course.
I wish I could remember more detail, but it was a long time ago.
The Space Transportation System (STS) Orbiter Vehicle (OV, colloqually known as the “Shuttle Orbiter”) had several different types of insulation in its Thermal Protection System (see the figure at the bottom of page 3). The primary components which are necessary to resist heating during reentry are the Reinforced Carbon-Carbon cap and panels on the leading edge of nose and wings, the High Temperature Reusable Surface Insulation Tiles on the lifting body and forward areas of the OV, and the low temperature tiles and blankets used on the upper wing surface and fuselage areas of the OV. All of these were intended to be indefinitely reusable, but the Shuttle notoriously lost or damaged beyond reuse many of the high temp tiles on every flight (sometimes exceeding 20% of tiles, most famously in STS-27, the second flight after the loss of Challenger which had the worst tile damage seen in flight, and the infamous loss of Columbia in 2003 due to damage on the RCC panels (and in which the investigation led to the discovery that the RCC panels became brittle with age, which should have been a surprise to exactly no one).
The whole point of the STS was, of course, that it be reusable except for explicitly consumable items like propellants, CO[SUB]2[/SUB] scrubber filters, et cetera. Replacing tiles turned out to be very expensive because every one of them had to be cut to shape and hand placed with the appropriate gap for thermal expansion. Replacing the RCC panels, which are laid up and manufactured by hand in a very complex process and require extremely precise fitment, would be prohibitively expensive to perform every flight.
As for “Starlite”, just because it can withstand a certain ambient temperature doesn’t mean it is a suitable material for TPS on a reentry vehicle. Although the leading surfaces on the OV experience heating up to 3000 °F, the actual damage that is done is due to erosion by molecular impact and oxidation due to oxygen species at high energy states. If the Starlite material can withstand high temperatures but erodes very fast in a high velocity molecular impact environment, it is worthless as a thermal protection material for reentry environments.
Thinking about potential uses, a low-cost crucible might be an option. But I suspect that you’d end up with little flakes of charred carbon in your product, so this might only really be useful for students and stuff, who are trying to be cheap, and care about learning than about the exact quality of the end product…