Title:
THIN INSULATIVE MATERIAL WITH GAS-FILLED CELLULAR STRUCTURE
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is directed to a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative cellular structure and methods for manufacturing the cellular structure. The cellular structure can be incorporated into outdoor gear and apparel to make the outdoor gear or apparel warm, while still maintaining a desired thinness and flexibility. The insulative article takes advantage of the superior insulative properties of dry gases and preferably highly insulative gases such as argon. In addition, the size and shape of the cells in the cellular structure are selected to minimize convection.



Inventors:
Alder, Nate Nathan (Provo, UT, US)
Woolford, Brady (Spanish Fork, UT, US)
Maughan, Benjamin (Provo, UT, US)
Application Number:
12/013326
Publication Date:
10/09/2008
Filing Date:
01/11/2008
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
156/60, 528/44, 528/396
International Classes:
C08G77/00; C08G77/04; C08G77/54
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
VAN SELL, NATHAN L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Workman Nydegger (Salt Lake City, UT, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative material, comprising: a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of a gas impermeable material joined together to form a chamber having a cell structure, the cell structure comprising a plurality cells that are in fluid communication; a dry insulating gas disposed within the plurality of cells; and a dry gas reservoir and a valve mechanism configured to allow the dry insulating gas to be introduced and removed from the plurality of cells; wherein the dimensions of the plurality of cells are such that free convective mixing of the insulating gas is minimized within the cells by selecting dimensions for the cells and the dry insulating gas so as to yield a Rayleigh value of less than 300,000 for each cell.

2. An insulative material as in claim 1, wherein the insulative material is incorporated into an article of outdoor apparel chosen from the group consisting of coats, parkas, jackets, vests, pants, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, waders, and snow boots, work boots, ski boots, and snowboard boots.

3. An insulative material as in claim 1, wherein the insulative material is incorporated into an article of outdoor gear chosen from the group consisting of tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads.

4. An insulative article as recited in claim 1, wherein the gas impermeable material for the first and second sheets comprises a fabric bonded or laminated to a gas impermeable material.

5. An insulative article as recited in claim 4, wherein the gas impermeable material is selected from the group consisting of polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, urethane, silicone rubber, latex rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), expanded PTFE, butyl rubber, and Mylar.

6. An insulative article as recited in claim 1, wherein the dry insulating gas is dry atmospheric air having a moisture content less than about 4 percent by weight.

7. An insulative article as recited in claim 1, wherein the dry insulating gas is selected from the group consisting of argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof.

8. An insulative article as recited in claim 7, wherein the dry insulating gas has a moisture content not greater than about 2 percent by weight.

9. An insulative article as recited in claim 7, wherein the dry insulating gas has a moisture content not greater than about 1 percent by weight.

10. An insulative article as recited in claim 1, wherein a volume and cell dimensions for each of the plurality of cells are selected such that the Rayleigh value of the is less than about 300,000.

11. An insulative article as recited in claim 10, wherein the cell volume is less than about 300 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 14 cm by about 7 cm.

12. An insulative article as recited in claim 10, wherein the cell volume is less than about 145 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 12 cm by about 4 cm.

13. An insulative article as recited in claim 10, wherein the cell volume is less than about 100 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 8 cm by about 4 cm.

14. An gas-filled, highly insulative article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel, comprising: a material sized and configured to be worn by a person; a gas-filled insulative cell structure, the cell structure having, a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of gas impermeable material joined together to form a cell; an insulative gas disposed with the cells and having a moisture content of less than about 4 percent by weight; and wherein the dimensions of the plurality of cells are such that free convective mixing of the insulating gas is minimized within the cells by selecting dimensions for the cells and the dry insulating gas so as to yield a Rayleigh value of less than 300,000 for each cell

15. An article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel selected from the group consisting of consisting of coats, parkas, jackets, vests, pants, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, snow boots, work boots, ski boots, snowboard boots, tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads.

16. An article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel as recited in claim 14, wherein the insulating gas is selected from the group consisting of atmospheric air, argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof.

17. An article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel as recited in claim 14, wherein the cell volume is less than about 300 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 14 cm by about 7 cm.

18. An article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel as recited in claim 14, wherein the cell volume is less than about 145 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 12 cm by about 4 cm.

19. An article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel as recited in claim 14, wherein the cell volume is less than about 100 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 8 cm by about 4 cm.

20. An article of outdoor gear or outdoor apparel as recited in claim 14, wherein a plurality of insulative cells are grouped together to form an insulative article.

21. A method of manufacturing a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative article, comprising: providing a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of a gas impermeable material; welding the first and seconds sheets of gas impermeable material together to form a chamber having a cell structure comprising a plurality cells that are in fluid communication, wherein the volume and dimensions of the plurality of cells are chosen such that free convective mixing of gas inside the cells is minimized, the cell structure providing a valve mechanism configured to allow an insulating gas to be introduced into and removed from the plurality of cells; and filling the plurality of cells with a dry insulating gas selected from the group consisting of atmospheric air, argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof, wherein the insulating gas has a moisture content less than about 4 percent by weight.

22. A method as recited in claim 21, wherein the gas impermeable material for the first and second sheets comprises a fabric bonded or laminated to a gas impermeable material.

23. A method as recited in claim 21, wherein the gas impermeable material is selected from the group consisting of polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, urethane, silicone rubber, latex rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), expanded PTFE, butyl rubber, and Mylar.

24. A method as recited in claim 21, wherein the further comprising choosing a volume and cell dimensions for each of the plurality of cells such that the Rayleigh value of each of the plurality of cells is below 300,000.

25. A method as recited in claim 21, further comprising incorporating the insulative articles into outdoor apparel and/or gear chosen from the group consisting of coats, parkas, jackets, vests, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, snow boots, work boots, ski boots, snowboard boots, tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/910,485, filed Apr. 6, 2007, which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. The Field of the Invention

The present invention is in the field of thermal insulation materials. More particularly, embodiments of the present invention relate to articles (e.g., ski jackets and other outdoor gear and apparel) in which a dry gas is disposed in a cellular structure and used as a thermal insulator.

2. The Relevant Technology

Thermal insulators have long been important for human survival and comfort in cold climates. The primary function of any thermal insulator is to reduce heat loss (i.e., heat transfer) from a heat source to a cold sink. There are three forms of heat transfer: convection, conduction, and radiation.

Heat loss through convective mixing of gases is caused by the tendency of a gas to form a rotational mixing pattern between a warmed (i.e., less dense) region and a cooler (i.e., more dense) region. In a convection cycle, warmed gas is constantly being exchanged for cooler gas. One of the primary ways in which thermal insulators work is through suppressing convection by trapping or confining a volume of a gas within the insulative material. For example, one of the reasons that a fiber-filled parka feels warm is that the air near the wearer's skin is warmed by body heat and the fibers act to prevent or at least slow convective mixing of the warmed layer of the air with the cold air outside.

Conduction involves heat flow through a material from hot to cold in the form of direct interaction of atoms and molecules. For example, the phenomenon of conduction is one of the reasons why a thin layer of insulation does not insulate as well as a thicker layer.

Radiation involves direct net energy transfer between surfaces at different temperatures in the form of infrared radiation. Radiation is suppressed by using materials that reflect infrared radiation. For example, the glass surface of a vacuum flask is coated with silver to reflect radiation and prevent heat loss through the vacuum region.

Different thermal insulators prevent heat loss through convection, conduction, and radiation in different ways. For example, fiber-based thermal insulators like polyester fiber fill or fiberglass insulation utilize fairly low conductivity fibers in a stack or batt with a volume of air trapped or confined amongst the fibers. Furthermore, conduction is reduced by the random orientation of the fibers across the stack or batt, and radiative heat loss is somewhat reduced because the radiation is scattered as it passes through the fibers.

Another example class of thermal insulators includes closed cell structures, such as foams or microspheres. Closed cell structures are generally comprised of a polymer matrix with many small, mostly closed cavities. As with fiber-based insulations, these insulators conserve heat by trapping a volume of air in and amongst the cells. In fact, convection is effectively eliminated inside the small, closed cells. Furthermore, conduction is reduced by using low conductivity materials, and radiation is low because the cells are typically very small and there is little temperature difference between cavity walls and hence low driving force for radiative heat transfer.

Essentially all thermal insulators present a tradeoff between insulative value (i.e., prevention of convection, conduction, and radiation), bulk, and cost. For example, because of the bulkiness of fiber- or foam-based insulation, achieving a sufficient degree of insulation for a given set of conditions can be difficult without also making the article too bulky for practical use. It should also be appreciated that adding additional fiber- or foam-based insulation inevitably adds weight. Such insulative materials are also static in that the amount of insulative material cannot be changed or adjusted as the user's needs change. For example, if a person is wearing a fiber filled parka or sleeping in a fiber filled sleeping bag, the amount of insulation cannot be increased or decreased as environmental or activity conditions change.

In addition, many typical insulative materials produce toxic and/or environmentally damaging byproducts in the process of manufacture. For example, the manufacturing process for many thermal insulators such as polyester fibers or foams produces CFCs and/or greenhouse gases. Many typical thermal insulators also continue to outgas toxic chemicals long after their manufacture. For example, fiberglass insulation is typically manufactured with formaldehyde compounds that continue to outgas long after the insulation is placed in a wall or other structure. And many typical insulators, such as fiberglass or polyester fiber fill, produce loose fibers that can be harmful if they are inhaled.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is directed to a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative material and methods for manufacturing the material. The insulative material has a cellular structure that can be filled with an insulative gas (e.g., argon). The insulative material can be incorporated into outdoor gear and apparel to make the outdoor gear or apparel warm, while still maintaining a desired thinness and flexibility. In one embodiment, the volume of the insulative gas in the cellular structure can be adjustable such that the insulation provided by the outdoor gear or apparel can be selectable. Because the insulative component is a gas, the insulation value of the article can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the amount of gas, without appreciably affecting the weight of the article. The cellular structure can be used to insulate a variety of outdoor clothing and gear.

The present invention includes a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative material with a cellular structure. The cell structure can be formed from a plurality of cells that are configured to minimize thermal convection. In one embodiment, the cell structure is formed from first and second sheets of a gas impermeable material that are joined together to form a chamber between the sheets. The chamber is subdivided into cells that are in fluid communication with one another.

A dry insulating gas (e.g., argon) is disposed within the plurality of cells. A reservoir of a dry gas is coupled to the cells to allow the insulating gas to be introduced, and optionally removed, from the cells. The volume and dimensions of the cells and type of insulative gas are selected such that free convective mixing of the insulating gas disposed within the cells is minimized. In one embodiment the convective mixing of the insulative gas in the cells has a Rayleigh value of less than 300,000 (based on a temperature difference of body temperature to 0° C.

In one embodiment, the first and second sheets that form the cellular structure comprise a fabric, such as nylon, polyester, or spandex, that is bonded or laminated to a gas impermeable material. Examples of suitable gas impermeable materials include, but are not limited to, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, urethane, silicone rubber, latex rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), expanded PTFE, butyl rubber, and Mylar.

In one embodiment of the invention, the water content of the insulative gas used in the cellular structure can be limited to prevent accumulation of condensed water vapor. Preferably the water content of the insulative gas in the cellular structure is less than about 4 percent by weight, more preferably less than about 2 percent by weight and most preferably less than 1 percent by weight. Examples of suitable gases that can be used with the present invention include argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof. In one embodiment, atmospheric air can be used. However, atmospheric air is typically less desirable if the water content is difficult to control since excess water vapor has been found to lead to pooling of condensed water vapor in the cellular structure, which substantially reduces the insulative properties of the cellular structure and substantially increases weight.

In one embodiment of the present invention, the cell volume and cell dimension for the plurality of cells in the insulative article are selected such that heat loss through convective mixing is minimized. One way to minimize heat loss though convective mixing is to select a cell volume and cell dimensions such that the Rayleigh value of the cell is less than about 300,000. More preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 50,000 to about 275,000. Most preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 125,000 to about 250,000. A preferred example of a cell configuration with a Rayleigh value below about 300,000 has a cell volume less than about 300 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 14 cm by about 7 cm. A more preferred example of a cell configuration with a Rayleigh value below about 300,000 has a cell volume less than about 145 cm3 with dimensions of about 3 cm by about 12 cm by about 4 cm. A most preferred example of a cell configuration with a Rayleigh value below about 300,000 has a cell volume less than about 100 cm3 with dimensions of less than about 3 cm by about 8 cm by about 4 cm.

In one embodiment, the insulative cell structure of the present invention may be used to insulate outdoor apparel. Exemplary outdoor apparel items include, but are not limited to, coats, parkas, jackets, vests, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, waders, snow boots, work boots, ski boots, and snowboard boots.

In another embodiment, the cell structure of the present invention may be used to insulate outdoor gear. Exemplary outdoor gear items include, but are not limited to, tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads.

The present invention includes a method for manufacturing a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative material. The method comprises steps of (1) providing a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of a gas impermeable material; (2) welding the first and seconds sheets of gas impermeable material together to form a chamber having a cell structure comprising a plurality cells that are in fluid communication; (3) filling the plurality of cells with a dry insulating gas selected from the group consisting of argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof, wherein the insulating gas has a moisture content less than about 4 percent by weight. In addition, the insulative material can then be incorporated into an article of outdoor apparel or outdoor gear.

In one embodiment, the first and second sheets that form the cellular structure comprise a fabric, such as nylon, polyester, or spandex, bonded or laminated to a gas impermeable material. Preferably the materials used to form the insulative material are flexible such that the insulative material can be wearable or useable next to a person's body. Examples of suitable gas impermeable materials include, but are not limited to, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, urethane, silicone rubber, latex rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), expanded PTFE, butyl rubber, and Mylar.

Heat loss through the insulative material is lessened if convective mixing of the gas in the plurality of cells is minimized. In turn convective mixing of the gas in the plurality of cells is minimized if the dimensions are such that the Rayleigh value is below about 300,000. In one embodiment of the present invention, the method further comprises choosing a volume and cell dimensions for each of the plurality of cells such that the Rayleigh value of each of the plurality of cells is less than about 300,000.

As mentioned above, the insulative material can be incorporated into an article of outdoor apparel and/or outdoor gear. Examples of suitable articles of outdoor apparel and/or outdoor gear include, but are not limited to, coats, parkas, jackets, vests, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, snow boots, work boots, ski boots, snowboard boots, tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads. The use of a selectable volume of gas to control the insulative value of the article is particularly beneficial for use with outdoor gear and outdoor apparel since it allows a person to dynamically control heating adjacent the body, thereby ensuring greater likelihood that a desired comfort level can be achieved.

These and other objects and features of the present invention will become more fully apparent from the following description and appended claims, or may be learned by the practice of the invention as set forth hereinafter.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

To further clarify the above and other advantages and features of the present invention, a more particular description of the invention will be rendered by reference to specific embodiments thereof which are illustrated in the appended drawings. It is appreciated that these drawings depict only typical embodiments of the invention and are therefore not to be considered limiting of its scope. The invention will be described and explained with additional specificity and detail through the use of the accompanying drawings in which:

FIG. 1 illustrates a schematic of single insulating gas cell having X, Y, and Z dimensions, a gas reservoir, and a valve;

FIG. 2 illustrates an arrangement of a plurality of insulating gas cells as in FIG. 1 that are in fluid connection with one another and with a gas reservoir;

FIG. 3 illustrates an alternate arrangement of a plurality of insulating gas cells that are in fluid connection with one another;

FIG. 4 illustrates yet another alternate arrangement of a plurality of insulating gas cells that are in fluid connection with one another;

FIG. 5 illustrates even yet another alternate arrangement of a plurality of insulating gas cells that are in fluid connection with one another.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention is directed to a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative material having a cellular structure and methods for manufacturing the material. The cellular structure can be incorporated into outdoor gear and apparel to make the outdoor gear or apparel warm, while still maintaining a desired thinness and flexibility. The insulative material takes advantage of the superior insulative properties of dry gases and preferably highly insulative gases such as argon. In one embodiment, the volume of the insulative gas in the insulative material can be adjustable such that the insulation provided by the outdoor gear or apparel can be selectable. Because the insulative component is a gas, the insulation value of the article can be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the amount of gas, without appreciably affecting the weight of the article. The cellular structure can be used to insulate a variety of outdoor clothing and gear.

I. Design of an Insulative Gas Cell

FIG. 1 illustrates a schematic of single insulating gas cell 10 having X, Y, and Z dimensions. In a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative article that depends on the insulating properties of dry gases, the selection of X, Y, and Z dimensions are selected to reduce heat transfer by means of convection.

Convective heat transfer consists of both forced and natural convection. Forced convection is due to the induced movement of the gas in the gas-filled cell. For example, in the case of a gas-filled cell that is incorporated into a garment, forced convection can be caused by movement of the wearer. Natural convection is a rotational flow pattern of gas caused by the temperature differential between warm and cool regions of the cell and gas buoyancy.

For example, in a gas filled insulating cell 10 like the one depicted in FIG. 1, the gas adjacent to the cell 10 surface nearest to a source of heat is typically at a higher temperature and lower density than the gas at the surface of the cell closest to atmospheric conditions. The hotter gas will rise and the cooler gas will replace the hotter gas thus setting off convective mixing of the gas within the cell 10. This will increase the heat transfer through the cell 10, which is undesirable for insulation. For both natural and forced convection, heat transfer is enhanced as the length of the free flowing path of the gas is increased. This is because convective mixing of the gas is allowed to more fully develop in these free flowing paths and thus heat transfer by convection is increased. This means that increasing the XYZ dimensions of the cell 10 depicted in FIG. 1 will tend to increase the tendency of convection coils to form inside the cell 10, which increases heat loss.

In one embodiment of the present invention, the cell 10 structure is specifically designed to reduce both free and forced convection of the gas inside the cell 10. Free and forced convection are minimized by choosing cell volume and dimensions that break up the free flow path of the gas inside the cell 10 and thus reduce convective mixing or rotational motion of the gas in the cell 10. In one embodiment of the present invention, a heat transfer model was developed that allows one to predict preferred cell dimensions (i.e., X, Y, and Z dimensions) in order to minimize natural convection and increase the insulating capabilities of the cell 10. These preferred cell dimensions for natural convection will also reduce heat transfer due to forced convection.

The model is developed by using both the Rayleigh value and the Nusselt number to predict the convective coefficient for the cell 10 under static conditions (i.e., natural convection and no forced convection). The Rayleigh value is a correlation between the buoyancy and viscous forces of the gas inside the cell 10. Large Rayleigh values are indicative of very buoyant flows leading to increased convection in the cell. Large Rayleigh values would be typical of convective mixing or rotational motion of the gas in large free flowing paths. The Rayleigh value can be expressed as the following for the geometry used for the cell structure.

RaL=gB(TB-T0)δ3v2Pr(1)

In equation 1, g represents gravity, B is the expansion coefficient for the gas, δ is the thickness of the cell structure when inflated with the gas, Pr is the Prandtl number, v is the kinematic viscosity of the gas, TB−T0 is the temperature difference between the inner and outer wall of the cell 10. For purposes of this invention, the Rayleigh value is calculated using a value of 37° C. for TB and −40° C. for T0.

The Rayleigh value is used in turn to predict the Nusselt number, which quantifies convective heat transfer from the surfaces of the cell 10. The Nusselt number is then used to calculate the total heat transfer through the cell 10. Empirical correlations for the average Nusselt number for natural convection in enclosures were used to determine the Nusselt number based on the Rayleigh value and cell geometry. The Rayleigh value is significantly influenced by the thickness (i.e., the Z dimension depicted in FIG. 1) of the cell 10 and also the temperature difference between the inner and outer wall of the cell 10. Increasing the thickness will increases the free flowing path of the gas. When either the cell thickness or the temperature difference is increased than the Rayleigh value is increased which also causes the Nusselt number to increase. Equation 2 shows that as the Nusselt number is increased the total heat transfer in the cell is also increased.

Q=kNuA(TB-T0)δ(2)

Equation 2 also shows that the heat transfer through the cell 10 is also dependent on the facial area of the cell 10 (i.e., A=X·Y). As the facial area is increased, the heat transfer through the cell 10 is also increased. The equation for heat transfer also shows the importance of the thermal conductivity value, k of the gas used in the cell structure. The smaller the thermal conductivity of the gas the lower the total heat transfer through the cell structure. Thermal conductivity of the gas is a function of the gas type (i.e., some gases are better insulators than other gases), the moisture content of the gas (i.e., increased water content increases the thermal conductivity of the gas), and on the temperature.

One will appreciate from the above discussion that there is an interplay between heat loss through convection, as primarily influenced by cell thickness, and heat loss through conduction, as primarily influenced by the facial area of the cell, along with the thickness of the cell. In one embodiment, this interplay is balanced leading to a preferred range for dimensions of the cell 10. That is, as the cell 10 thickness is increased heat transfer through conduction is decreased. Nevertheless, there is a point of diminishing returns due to the fact that convective mixing or rotational motion increases as the cell 10 thickness is increased. Increased convective mixing and loss of insulation value is seen as an increase in the Rayleigh value for the cell 10. That is, as the thickness of the cell 10 is increased, there is a point where the increase in heat transfer due to convection is greater than the decrease in heat transfer due to conduction. After this point there is no longer a need to increase the thickness because no benefit in reducing heat transfer can be obtained.

Through use of this theoretical model, it was determined the preferred dimensions for minimal heat transfer through the cell 10 occur at a preferred Rayleigh value less than 300,000. More preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 50,000 to about 275,000. Most preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 125,000 to about 250,000. Rayleigh values greater than 300,000 will cause the insulative cell to perform less optimally due to convective heat transfer. This will reduce the effectiveness of the gas cell 10 as an insulator.

In one embodiment, the present invention includes a gas-filled, highly insulative cell 10. The cell 10 includes a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of a gas impermeable material joined together to form a cell 10. In one embodiment of the present invention, the cell 10 depicted in FIG. 1 is attached to a dry gas reservoir 12 and a valve mechanism 16 configured to allow the dry insulating gas to the introduced into and removed from the cell 10. Additionally, the cell 10, the gas reservoir 12, and the valve mechanism are connected to the cell 10 by means of a gas line 14. As was explained more fully in the preceding paragraphs, the volume and XYZ dimensions of the cell are chosen such that free and forced convective mixing of gas inside the cell is minimized.

In one embodiment, the cell 10 includes a dry insulative gas disposed within the cell 10. The identity of the insulating gas is an important factor is determining the insulative properties of the cell 10. In general, dry gases insulate better than moist gases, monatomic gases insulate better than diatomic or polyatomic gases, and heavy, viscous gases insulate better than lighter, less viscous gases. Preferably, the gas disposed within the cell 10 has a moisture content less than about 4 percent by weight. More preferably, the gas disposed within the cell 10 has a moisture content less than about 2 percent by weight. Most preferably, the gas disposed within the cell 10 has a moisture content less than about 1 percent by weight. The insulating gas can be selected from the group consisting of atmospheric air, argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof.

In one embodiment, the preferred Rayleigh value for the cell 10 is less than 300,000. More preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 50,000 to about 275,000. Most preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 125,000 to about 250,000. Based on a preferred Rayleigh value of less than 300,000, preferred X, Y, and Z dimensions for the cell 10 depicted in FIG. 1 were determined. Preferably, the cell volume is less than about 300 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of less than about 7 cm by about 14 cm by about 3 cm. More preferably, the cell volume is less than about 145 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of less than about 4 cm by about 12 cm by about 3 cm. Most preferably, the cell volume is less than about 100 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of less than about 4 cm by about 8 cm by about 3 cm. These dimensions minimize heat transfer due to both forced and natural convection.

II. Insulative Material Having Cellular Structure

In one embodiment of the present invention, a plurality of insulative cells as depicted in FIG. 1 are grouped together to form an insulative cell structure. FIGS. 2-5 depict various arrangements of the plurality of cells 10 that form a cell structure.

With reference to FIG. 2, the cell structure 20 comprises a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of a gas impermeable material that are joined together to form a chamber there between. The chamber is subdivided into a cellular structure comprising a plurality cells 10. The first and second sheets are bonded together such that there are open sections that form the cells 10. In between the cells, there are regions 29 where the first and second sheets are bonded together leaving essentially no open space between the first and second sheets.

In one embodiment, the cells 10 are in fluid communication with one another. In the cellular structure depicted in FIG. 2, the cells 10 are in fluid connection with one another via short connector tubes 26 and 28 that allow gas to flow between cells 10. It should be mentioned, however, that the connector tubes 26 and 28 do not enhance convection within the cells 10. That is, the connector tubes 26 and 28 are sufficiently small and they are placed such that convection currents do not form between adjacent cells 10.

In one embodiment, a dry insulating gas is disposed within the plurality of cells 10. The identity of the insulating gas is an important factor is determining the insulative properties of the insulative article 20. In general, dry gases insulate better than moist gases, monatomic gases insulate better than diatomic or polyatomic gases, and heavy, viscous gases insulate better than lighter, less viscous gases. Preferably, the gas disposed within the cells 10 has a moisture content less than about 4 percent by weight. More preferably, the gas disposed within the cells 10 has a moisture content less than about 2 percent by weight. Most preferably, the gas disposed within the cells 10 has a moisture content less than about 1 percent by weight. The insulating gas is selected from the group consisting of atmospheric air, argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof.

The insulative article 20 depicted in FIG. 2 is depicted as it may be attached to a dry gas reservoir 12 and a valve mechanism 16 configured to allow the dry insulating gas to be introduced into and removed from the cells 10 comprising the insulative article 20. The insulative article 20 is connected to the gas reservoir 12, and the valve mechanism 16 via a gas line 14. The connector tubes 26 and 28 depicted in FIG. 2 allow gas introduced into one cell 10 to fill all cells 10 in the insulative article 20.

As was explained more fully in the preceding section, the volume and X dimension 22, Y dimension 24, and Z dimension (not shown) of the cells 10 are chosen such that free and forced convective mixing of gas inside the cell is minimized. Minimizing free and forced convection of the gas inside the plurality of cells 10 increases the insulative efficiency of the insulative article 20. In one embodiment, the preferred Rayleigh value for the each of the plurality of cells 10 is less than about 300,000. More preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 50,000 to about 275,000. Most preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 125,000 to about 250,000. Based on a preferred Rayleigh value of less than about 300,000, preferred dimensions for each of the plurality of cells 10 depicted in FIG. 2 were determined. Preferably, the cell volume is less than about 300 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 7 cm by about 14 cm by about 3 cm. More preferably, the cell volume is less than about 145 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 4 cm by about 12 cm by about 3 cm. Most preferably, the cell volume is less than about 100 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 4 cm by about 8 cm by about 3 cm. These dimensions minimize heat transfer due to both forced and natural convection.

In one embodiment, the first and second sheets of material that form the plurality of cells 10 that comprise the insulative article 20 are comprised of a fabric, such as nylon, polyester, or spandex, bonded to a gas impermeable material. Examples of suitable gas impermeable materials include, but are not limited to, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, urethane, silicone rubber, latex rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), expanded PTFE, butyl rubber, and Mylar.

FIG. 3 depicts an alternate arrangement of a plurality of cells 10 to form an insulative article 30. The cells 10 are formed as open space between two sheets of gas impermeable material that are bonded together to form a plurality of cells 10. Bonded regions 36 are formed between the cells 10. The cells 10 are arranged in a zigzag fashion with adjacent cells 10 arranged at substantially right angles relative to one another. Each cell 10 has an X dimension 32, a Y dimension 34, and a Z dimension (not shown). The Y dimension 34 is depicted in part by an imaginary line that extends into the adjacent cell. The cell is bounded by the dotted lines because gas atoms traveling through the center of the cell have a free motion that is essentially bounded by these dimensions since most the gas atoms bouncing off the walls will stay within this space.

As in the previous examples, the dimensions of each of the cells 10 are chosen such that heat loss through convection is minimized. Even though the cells are connected, the formation of convection currents that lead to heat loss are minimized because the right angles break up the free flow path of any convection currents that may form. That is, rotational convection currents generally cannot form around right angles.

Heat loss through convection is minimized if the Rayleigh value for the each of the plurality of cells 10 is preferably less than about 300,000. More preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 50,000 to about 275,000. Most preferably, the Rayleigh value of the cell is in a range from about 125,000 to about 250,000. Based on a preferred Rayleigh value of less than about 300,000, preferred dimensions for each of the plurality of cells 10 depicted in FIG. 3 were determined. Preferably, the cell volume is less than about 300 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 7 cm by about 14 cm by about 3 cm. More preferably, the cell volume is less than about 145 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 4 cm by about 12 cm by about 3 cm. Most preferably, the cell volume is less than about 100 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 4 cm by about 8 cm by about 3 cm. These dimensions minimize heat transfer due to both forced and natural convection.

FIG. 4 depicts another alternate arrangement of a plurality of cells 10 to form an insulative article 40. The arrangement is similar to the arrangement depicted in FIG. 2. The cells 10 are formed as open space between two sheets of gas impermeable material that are bonded together to form a plurality of cells 10. Bonded regions 49 are formed between the cells 10. The cells are in fluid connection with one another via connector tubes (46 and 48) between the cells.

As in previous examples, each of the plurality of cells 10 have an X dimension 42, a Y dimension 44, and a Z dimension (not shown). The XYZ dimensions are chosen according to the preferred Rayleigh value of less than 300,000 so as to minimize heat loss through convection of the gas within the cells 10.

FIG. 5 depicts another alternate arrangement of a plurality of cells 10 to form an insulative article 50. The arrangement is similar to the arrangement depicted in FIG. 3. The cells 10 are formed as open space between two sheets of gas impermeable material that are bonded together to form a plurality of cells 10. Bonded regions 58 are formed between the cells 10. The cells are in fluid connection with one another via connector tubes 56 between the cells.

As in previous examples, each of the plurality of cells 10 have an X dimension 52, a Y dimension 54, and a Z dimension (not shown). The XYZ dimensions are chosen according to the preferred Rayleigh value of less than 300,000 so as to minimize heat loss through convection of the gas within the cells 10.

In one embodiment, the insulative articles depicted in FIGS. 2-5 may be used to insulate outdoor apparel. Exemplary outdoor apparel items include, but are not limited to, coats, parkas, jackets, vests, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, and boots.

In one embodiment, the insulative articles depicted in FIGS. 2-5 may be used to insulate outdoor gear. Exemplary outdoor gear items include, but are not limited to, tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads.

III. A Method of Making an Insulative Article

In one embodiment, the present invention includes a method for manufacturing a lightweight, gas-filled, highly insulative material. The method comprises steps of (1) providing a first sheet of a gas impermeable material and a second sheet of a gas impermeable material; (2) welding the first and seconds sheets of gas impermeable material together to form a chamber having a cell structure comprising a plurality cells that are in fluid communication; (3) providing a valve mechanism configured to allow an insulating gas to be introduced into and removed from the plurality of cells; and (4) filling the plurality of cells with a dry insulating gas selected from the group consisting of argon, krypton, xenon, carbon dioxide, sulfur hexafluoride, and combinations thereof. In an alternative embodiment, dry atmospheric air can also be used, although the foregoing dry gases are preferred. Preferably, the insulating gas used to fill the plurality of cells has a moisture content less than about 4 percent by weight. More preferably, the insulating gas used to fill the plurality of cells has a moisture content less than about 2 percent by weight. Most preferably, the insulating gas used to fill the plurality of cells has a moisture content less than about 1 percent by weight.

In one embodiment, the first and second sheets that form the cellular structure comprise a fabric, such as nylon, polyester, or spandex, bonded or laminated to a gas impermeable material. Preferably the materials used to form the insulative material are flexible such that the insulative material can be wearable or useable next to a person's body. Examples of suitable gas impermeable materials include, but are not limited to, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, urethane, silicone rubber, latex rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), expanded PTFE, butyl rubber, and Mylar.

Exemplary techniques to welding the first and seconds sheets of gas impermeable material together to form a chamber having a cell structure comprising a plurality cells that are in fluid communication include, but are not limited to, ultrasonic welding, laser welding, stamp heat welding, hot plate welding, gluing, taping, sewing, and other fabric joining techniques known by those having skill in the art. For example, the repeating patterns of cells, examples of which are depicted in FIGS. 2-5, can be formed by welding two sheets if gas impermeable fabric together with an ultrasonic welding drum or a hot plate welding drum that is machined to impress the pattern into the sheets of fabric.

Heat loss through the article is lessened if convective mixing of the gas in the plurality of cells is minimized. In turn convective mixing of the gas in the plurality of cells is minimized if the dimensions are such that the Rayleigh value, which is a function of the cell dimensions, is below about 300,000. In one embodiment of the present invention, the method further comprises choosing a volume and cell dimensions for each of the plurality of cells such that the Rayleigh value of each of the plurality of cells is less than about 300,000. Based on a preferred Rayleigh value of less than about 300,000, preferred dimensions for each of the plurality of cells 10 depicted in FIG. 3 were determined. Preferably, the cell volume is less than about 300 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 7 cm by about 14 cm by about 3 cm. More preferably, the cell volume is less than about 145 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 4 cm by about 12 cm by about 3 cm. Most preferably, the cell volume is less than about 100 cm3 with XYZ dimensions of about 4 cm by about 8 cm by about 3 cm. These dimensions minimize heat transfer due to both forced and natural convection.

In one embodiment, the method disclosed herein further comprises incorporating the insulative material into an article of outdoor apparel and/or outdoor gear. Exemplary articles of outdoor apparel and/or outdoor gear include, but are not limited to, coats, parkas, jackets, vests, pants, gloves, mittens, hats, liners, snow boots, work boots, ski boots, snowboard boots, tents, sleeping bags, bivouac bags, and sleeping pads. The insulative material can be an integral component of the article of outdoor gear or apparel. For example, the insulative material can form part of the wall of a jacket or ski pant. The insulative material can be used to make a hat where all or part of the hat is the insulative material with a cellular structure. The insulative material can be used as a liner in a sleeping bag or it can be sewn such that the insulative material is a permanent component of the sleeping bag. The liner can be used as the fabric portion of the wall of a tent. The insulative material can be used in the floor of the tent to provide a barrier between a person and the ground. In addition, the insulative material can be used as a sleeping pad to provide insulated separation between a person and the ground.

Alternatively, the insulative material can be overlaid or attached as a liner to the article of outdoor gear or apparel. In this case, the insulative material can be attached using a zipper, snaps, hook and loop fastener (i.e., Velcro), or any other suitable connection means. In one embodiment, the insulative material can be incorporated into a vest or jacket that can zip into the shell of a coat. This mechanism allows the insulative material to be selectively used or removed depending on weather condition.

The present invention may be embodied in other specific forms without departing from its spirit or essential characteristics. The described embodiments are to be considered in all respects only as illustrative and not restrictive. The scope of the invention is, therefore, indicated by the appended claims rather than by the foregoing description. All changes which come within the meaning and range of equivalency of the claims are to be embraced within their scope.