Owing to their ultra-low thermal conductivity, silica aerogels are promising thermal insulators; however, their extensive application is limited by their high production cost. Thus, scientists have started to explore low-cost and easy preparation processes of silica aerogels. In this work, a low-cost method was proposed to prepare silica aerogels with industrial silica hydrosol and a subsequent ambient pressure drying (APD) process. Various surfactants (cationic, amphoteric, or anionic) were added to avoid solvent exchange and surface modification during the APD process. The effects of various surfactants on the microstructure, thermal conductivity, and thermal stability of the silica aerogels were studied. The results showed that the silica aerogels prepared with a cationic or anionic surfactant have better thermal stability than that prepared with an amphoteric surfactant. After being heated at 600 °C, the silica aerogel prepared with a cationic surfactant showed the highest specific surface area of 131 m2
and the lowest thermal conductivity of 0.038 W∙m−1
. The obtained low-cost silica aerogel with low thermal conductivity could be widely applied as a thermal insulator for building and industrial energy-saving applications.
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