This work presents for the first time, a simple, practical and scalable approach to fabricating recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) aerogels for thermal and acoustic insulation applications. The rPET aerogels were successfully developed from recycled PET fibers and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and glutaraldehyde (GA) cross-linkers using a freeze-drying process. The effects of various PET fiber concentrations (0.5, 1.0 and 2.0 by wt.%), fiber deniers (3D, 7D and 15D) and fiber lengths (32 mm and 64 mm) on the rPET aerogel structures and multi-properties were comprehensively investigated. The developed rPET aerogels showed a highly porous network structure (98.3⁻99.5%), ultra-low densities (0.007⁻0.026 g/cm³), hydrophobicity with water contact angles of 120.7⁻149.8°, and high elasticity with low compressive Young's modulus (1.16⁻2.87 kPa). They exhibited superior thermal insulation capability with low thermal conductivities of 0.035⁻0.038 W/m.K, which are highly competitive with recycled cellulose and silica-cellulose aerogels and better than mineral wool and polystyrene. The acoustic absorption results were also found to outperform a commercial acoustic foam absorber across a range of frequencies.
Keywords: acoustic insulation; aerogels; mechanical property; plastic waste; recycled PET fiber; thermal insulation.