Refractory Blog


30 December 2010 | No Comments »

As a child I overheard my Aunt from Arizona talking to my parents about finding gemstones and gold nuggets near her home. Boy did my young ears perk up. I was incredulous. Treasure just lying on the ground! The idea came to me that treasure might also be buried in the Ohio farm fields around me. This was so interesting, so compelling, that I began carrying a small foldable spade out on exploratory digs. I did not find gold or diamonds. The treasure I found and have kept all of these years is the memories of these childhood quests.

All of this came back to me a few days ago when Caren Seabeneck of Arizona Mining Claims sent us a wonderfully complimentary email. In the email was a link to their new Microwave Gold Kiln video.

Watching the video evoked the same feelings I experienced listening to my Aunt years ago. The idea of found treasure is still compelling. I remain as incredulous at 60 as I was at 6.

Thanks for the memories, Caren. I may just go try to find that old spade.

You can read more about the Microwave Gold Kiln for smelting your own gold and silver treasure at, and don’t forget to click on the video link above to see these pioneering spirits at work, including the kit designer, Patrick Moulton operating their microwave gold smelting kiln.

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc.

Sludge Heaters

6 December 2010 | No Comments »

 New-age refractory materials are truly “space age”. I have a success story regarding the RSI’s Gemcolite refractory.

A municipal waste water treatment plant was having operating difficulties with two identical sludge heaters. The heaters are a packaged unit of a boiler and a tube heat exchanger, fired primarily with waste digester gas, with natural gas as the stand-by fuel.

Poor combustion and flame symmetry, with resulting carbon, ash, and impurity deposits had plagued the units. Fireside corrosion was a real problem. The customer was fully prepared to replace the entire burner assemblies at great expense.

I contacted RSI, and together we designed a combustion chamber that provides a “space age” solution to the problems, AND saved the customer many tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow!

 Bob Stammer

New High Infrared Reflection Insulation Panels

5 August 2010 | No Comments »

In response to customer interest RSI has been working to develop new lightweight insulation materials that have very high infrared reflection. We are happy to announce the availability of our two new high infrared reflection insulation materials, Q-Board™ and AmorSil™.

AmorSil™ is a formulation combining amorphous silica with refractory binders. It is an excellent economical choice when IR reflection is important.

Q-Board™ is comprised of fused quartz fibers and refractory binders. It is our premium product for infrared reflection. It is 100% made in North America.

The development required us to design and build a new piece of specialized test equipment. The Infrared Reflection Comparative Test Station, or IRC test stand, is designed and built to measure and compare the ability of rigid insulation panels to reflect infrared energy.

When using the IRC, a sample panel is exposed to quartz heat lamps at a controlled power setting. A thermocouple is positioned to receive only infrared radiation reflected from the sample panel. The temperature gain at the thermocouple over time is compared with that of a known reflector, and the relative efficiency of the panel being tested is expressed as a percentage.

In this way, we can test almost any material, and directly compare their abilities to reflect heat. Besides helping us develop the new insulation materials, the information we are acquiring is being used to help us give well grounded advice to our customers who are interested in selecting a material to serve as insulation in infrared dryers, ovens and heaters.

A full disclosure of the apparatus and methods is available in our technical papers area.
Infrared Reflection Comparison Apparatus and Methods

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc.

Fuel Cell Power for the Long Haul

15 June 2010 | No Comments »

In the United States, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the Hours of service for long distance truckers. Drivers are limited to 11 cumulative hours in a 14 hour period, which must then be followed by a rest period of no less than 10 consecutive hours.

So what does a driver do with 13 hours of downtime each day? Look in the back of the modern truck’s cab. You’ll find all the amenities of home, including air conditioning, microwave, refrigerator, computer, video player, television and more. In the industry, this equipment is grouped under the charming name, “Hotel Loads”.

Hotel loads require power to operate. Although this can be provided by the truck’s engine, idling is now restricted to periods as short as 5 minutes in some states. The combination of long downtime and short idling periods creates an obvious need for an inexpensive, clean auxiliary power supply.

Delphi Corporation, Peterbilt Motors, and Cummins and Protonex are among those companies working to provide an APU (auxiliary power unit) to satisfy that need. The focus of most effort has been the design of an APU consisting of a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) along with a reformer that can operate on diesel fuel. The use of this combination reduces emissions, and lowers the cost of operations.

When fully developed, the APU will not be limited to use in commercial long distance trucking. These units will also find work providing primary and backup power for campers, homes and buildings.

Refractory Specialties anticipated this coming widespread use of the SOFC, and is ready to help. We have made significant investment, working to insure we are ready to provide the specialized insulation required by these SOFCs. Our T-Cast® All Alumina Insulation is the result of over 10 years of research and refinement of production methods. It is specifically formulated for SOFC use. It’s very low silica content helps insure the efficiency of the fuel cell remains high during years of operation. Extraordinary consistency of density is assured by the unique manufacturing process and stringent quality control. This material is especially suitable for CNC secondary machining for dimensional precision of the finished parts.

We are also ready to provide the insulation for the reformer. Here, our workhorse Gemcolite® and Gemcolite®-NS products present exceptionally flexible, efficient and economical solutions.

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc.

New California RCF Limits

6 May 2010 | No Comments »

I recently attended a presentation by Dean Venturin Ph.D., Director of Health, Safety and Environmental Quality at Unifrax. You may already know that the state of California has passed an Occupational Exposure Limit for RCF (Refractory Ceramic Fiber) of 0.2 fibers per cc. This news has been convoluted by the rumor mills to mean anything from “it’s not a problem” to “they’re banning RCF”. The truth is not as simple as it sounds. The included concept of a worker lifetime principle can invite even more confusion. Dean’s presentation helped me make sense of the practical impacts of the new limit.

For clear information, I suggest you read Unifrax’s newsletter.

For additional information, including the Final Statement of Reasons,  you can also see the Refractory Ceramic Fibers Coalition document.

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc.

Ohio Is Among Fuel Cell Leaders

3 May 2010 | No Comments »

A recent press release from the Ohio Business Development Coalition highlights a report published by Fuel Cells 2000. The report lists Ohio among the top five fuel cell states in 2009.

The work being done to bring “a new generation of green collar workers” to Ohio is paying dividends. The press release details investments that have directly resulted in the creation of over 50,000 jobs and over $6 billion in economic gain in Ohio. The ROI is estimated at 9:1.

To view the news release from the Ohio Business Development Coalition, go to
Ohio Named Among Top Five Fuel Cell States in the Country

To view the report from Fuel Cells 2000, go to
State of the States: Fuel Cells in America

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc.

Space Age Material?

20 April 2010 | No Comments »

Since my introduction to the vacuum formed ceramic fiber industry, I have participated in many conversations where the focus is more marketing than engineering. During a few of these conversations, my companions have called our materials “Space Age”. At first I did not make such statements, since I was not sure the comparison was valid. I promised myself that one day I would look it up.

That day finally arrived. I am quite happy to verify that the materials we make are, indeed, space age materials. The tiles that protect the lives of our astronauts from the wild temperature extremes encountered by the Space Shuttle, are made by the same process and materials we use to make insulation to protect the home and industrial user from the high temperatures of an oven or furnace.

From now on, if you happen to engage me in a conversation about our material, don’t be surprised if you hear me proudly proclaim that our insulation is made of Space Age Materials.

I defer to the source…

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc

Another Energy Hopeful, Concentrating Solar Power, (CSP)

11 March 2010 | No Comments »

Seems like every day I hear of a new, latest and greatest, energy solution that is going to revolutionize the way we get power. The previous blog entry discussed the “Bloom Box” and on site distributed energy. I personally feel that distributed energy is the way to go. But so far no one technology has been able to dethrone big bad coal. While the Bloom box is designed to power 1-4 homes, we also need systems that can power a thousand homes.

Another technology that has been making big, fix-it-all, headlines is Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) technology. The concept is very sound and has been around for quite awhile. It has been tried before with limited success (The Solar Project),  and is being prepared for wider deployment. The essential concept is to stuff a bunch a mirrors (heliostats) out in a desert around a central tower. The mirrors reflect the sun’s energy back onto the tower so that you get a concentration of energy. The area of the tower that accepts all the sun rays is the receiver. These receivers, depending on their technology, can reach pretty high temperatures, sometimes upwards of 1000°F. The more heat the receiver gets, the more energy is available for use. That heat is used to boil water, producing steam that runs a turbine generator.

There are quite a few big names that are backing this technology. Google just announced a breakthrough in heliostat technology that will greatly increase the amount of reflected energy a mirror can output. Google has also funded, through the firm IdeaLab, millions and millions of dollars into a company called eSolar. eSolar’s plan is to make scalable CSP “farms” that harvest the sun. BrightSource is another big player in the field. They just received the ok for a 1.4 billion dollar loan from the federal government to build a CSP plant in the Mojave desert. The technology is ready for the big time, it just needs deployed, standardized, and mass produced to bring down costs.

So the big questions are, how do we use all this heat energy in an efficient manner, and what about when the sun isn’t shining? Hundreds or maybe even thousands of very bright scientists are working on these issues, and they will find a solution. Some solutions involve higher receiver temperatures, and some involve using materials with a high heat storage capacity to store the energy for when it is needed. Both of these solutions will require insulation to keep that energy from dissipating.

So you are dealing with really high temperatures, and you want to store that heat energy in an efficient manner?  Thermal insulating boards and shapes such as, Gemcolite are available for temperatures up to 3000°F, and its low thermal conductivity provides an efficient solution to help store that heat energy.

Hopefully, in the not too far future, CSP plants and other technologies will be able to reduce our dependency on limited supply, carbon based, power sources, and place the United States at the forefront of a new energy economy.
You can read more about eSolar, BrightSource and Refractory Specialties at the links below.

Refractory Specialties

Dan Worley, Alternative Energy Technologist
Refractory Blog

Bloom Box Opportunities

5 March 2010 | No Comments »

Back-yard fuel cells are about to become a reality. That’s what K.R. Sridhar of Bloom Energy is claiming. Bloom Energy, a Silicon Valley startup, has revealed a small power plant designed to power your home from your back yard.

Each of these units will independently power 1 to 4 residences, allowing them to effectively leave the grid. Imagine the benefits of not having to install or maintain all of those power lines.

If this is too much of a leap for you, consider that we have already made the change from land lines to cell phones, and paper mail to electronic mail. It was never a question of if we would make these changes. The benefits could not be denied. When the technology was ready, we hurried onboard.

If Mr. Sridhar is correct, the technology for decentralizing our energy supply has now arrived. If so, I’m sure we will jump right in.

But what of the big boys like GE and Siemens? They have teams who have been working on this for years. They have multiple patents. They have vast experience in fuel cell operation in real life situations. Is it really possible that a small startup (although an undeniably well funded startup) can step in and take a large slice of the pie? I believe so. I believe there is a difference in focus. The big boys are looking at very large power units, leaving the backyard units for the startups.

Regardless of who develops and markets these units, it is going to happen. The need is simply too great. The benefits are too obvious. The technology is ready, and the price is coming down. It’s also obvious why this is of interest to refractory insulation manufacturers. The mass marketing of fuel cells may be one of the biggest economic opportunities ever for our industry. Fuel Cells require insulation – a lot of insulation.

Although there are several types of fuel cells, the majority of stationary units, including the new Bloom Box, are solid oxide fuel cells. For greatest efficiency, these units currently operate around 900ºC. In addition, the fuel cells that run on hydrogen may be supplied by a reformer (integral or separate) that operates around 800 ºC. The role of the refractory insulation is not only to keep the outside of the unit cool so we don’t burn the hand of a child playing in the back yard, but to keep the interior of the unit at operating temperature so it can maintain its efficiency.

For standard thermal insulation, these units use Ceramic Fiber Blanket, Organic Ceramic Fiber Board, Inorganic Ceramic Fiber Board, and high temperature adhesives. In addition to standard refractory insulation, solid oxide fuel cells require high purity non-silica insulation in key areas. Refractory Specialties’ high purity alumina insulation T-Cast®  was developed specifically for this application. The material was introduced to the market in 2004, and remains a key insulation choice for SOFC manufacturers.

You can read more details about the Bloom Box at;contentBody

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc

Peach Cobbler Topping

2 March 2010 | No Comments »

The drive home had been treacherous. Three inches of new snow fell during the afternoon, on top of the foot and a half from yesterday. I opened the back door and shook it from my shoes before stepping into the warmth.

All thoughts of snow left my mind. The kitchen was filled with the unmistakable smell of peach cobbler fresh from the oven.

“Hi Dear”, I said, looking around for the peachy treasure.
“Bad roads?” she asked

There it sat on the kitchen island, all nine inches by fourteen inches by who knows how deep, still hot in the pan.
“Getting worse”, I replied.
“A little snoverkill if you ask me.”

She emphasized the “s”. She had probably overheard this verbal atrocity sometime during the day and had been waiting to drop it on me. Any other day I would have chuckled. But with this wonderful smell in the kitchen, she deserved more. I laughed out loud.

“Snoverkill! Now that’s funny!”

Her satisfaction palpable, she floated to the island.

“I made some cobbler.”

Now I’ll be the first to admit I have an intense love for fresh peaches. I love the smell as it passes my nose on its way to my mouth. I love the acidic sting on my tongue. I even love the way the fuzz makes my lips buzz. Come to think about it, I have a weakness for anything that is peach flavored. My favorite wine is a rather girly peach and my favorite soft drink is sparkling peach flavored water. But for me the epitome of peachy is and always has been peach cobbler.

“Smells wonderful”, I said.

I went directly to the fridge. Yup. A brand new tub of Cool Whip. The perfect topping for the perfect dessert. I glanced at the clock. 5:30. Another hour till supper.

“Maybe we should eat early tonight?”
“You can wait.”

Well, obviously I would.

I went to the study and busied myself with some unfinished writing. I could still smell the cobbler. I don’t know how she expected me to concentrate. But I did. I was lost in the subject when she stuck her head in the door.

“Dinner’s ready.”

I’m proud to say I didn’t run. The table was set, and there it was, a generous portion on a small plate beside the main dish. Even better, she had piled on the Cool Whip. She usually made negative comments about how much I used. This time she had put on even more than I would have. I decided to laugh at her wordplay more often.

I managed to eat the main dish at a civilized pace. I pushed aside the empty main plate and pulled the dessert plate front and center. In a single swift cut I forked a hefty portion, carefully balanced to be precisely half Cool Whip and half peachy goodness and sweetened crust. Perfect. Just the way I like it. Awash in anticipation, I put it in my mouth.

Now what I experienced wasn’t in words. It was far too brief for that. Perhaps the mental equivalent of texting OMG! WTF!

I had to be careful. If I just blurted out what I thought, I might jeopardize all future chances of getting cobbler. And maybe not just cobbler.

“Mmmm, good”, I said.
“Thanks. I used Lite topping instead of regular. You can have as much as you want.”

I never thought of dessert as a duty, but that’s what it was. I cleaned the plate.

Making a change is never a good idea without testing. A thorough comparison of the old and the new can help avoid surprises. Take a look at our paper, Pool Heater Insulation Comparison to see an example of how we can participate.

Greg Gorby, Editor
Refractory Specialties, Inc.