Science

Graphene aerogel takes world’s lightest material crown

Graphene aerogel takes world’s...
The graphene aerogel can be supported by blades of grass
The graphene aerogel can be supported by blades of grass
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The graphene aerogel has a density of just 0.16 mg/cm3
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The graphene aerogel has a density of just 0.16 mg/cm3
The graphene aerogel can be supported by blades of grass
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The graphene aerogel can be supported by blades of grass
The graphene aerogel created by a team at China's Zhejiang University
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The graphene aerogel created by a team at China's Zhejiang University

Not even a year after it claimed the title of the world’s lightest material, aerographite has been knocked off its crown by a new aerogel made from graphene. Created by a research team from China’s Zhejiang University in the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering lab headed by Professor Gao Chao, the ultra-light aerogel has a density lower than that of helium and just twice that of hydrogen.

Although first created in 1931 by American scientist and chemical engineer, Samuel Stephens Kistler, aerogels have recently become a hotly contested area of scientific research. A “multiwalled carbon nanotube (MCNT) aerogel” dubbed “frozen smoke” with a density of 4 mg/cm3 lost its world’s lightest material title in 2011 to a micro-lattice material with a density of 0.9 mg/cm3. Less than a year later, aerographite claimed the crown with its density of 0.18 mg/cm3.

Now a new title-holder has been crowned, with the graphene aerogel created by Gao and his team boasting a density of just 0.16 mg/cm3. To create the record-setting material, Gao and his team turned to the wonder material du jour – graphene. Building on experience in developing macroscopic graphene materials, including one-dimensional graphene fibers and two-dimensional graphene films, the team decided to add another dimension and make a three-dimensional porous material out of graphene in an attempt to claim the record.

Instead of the sol-gel method and template-oriented methods generally used to create aerogels, Gao and his team used a new freeze-drying method that involved freeze-drying solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to create a carbon sponge that can be arbitrarily adjusted to any shape.

“With no need for templates, its size only depends on that of the container,” said Prof. Gao. “Bigger container can help produce the aerogel in bigger size, even to thousands of cubic centimeters or larger.”

The result is a material the team claims is very strong and extremely elastic, bouncing back after being compressed. It can also absorb up to 900 times its own weight in oil and do so quickly, with one gram of aerogel able to absorb up to 68.8 grams of organics per second – making it attractive for mopping up oil spills at sea.

“Maybe one day when oil spill occurs, we can scatter them on the sea and absorb the oil quickly,” said Gao. “Due to its elasticity, both the oil absorbed and the aerogel can be recycled.”

The researchers are examining other possible applications and say it also has potential as a phase change energy storage insulation material, catalytic carrier or efficient composite.

The graphene aerogel is detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Source: Zhejiang University via Graphene-Info.com

46 comments
Rt1583
Fantastic! Hooray! Huzzah! The latest, lightest man made material. Now, when will the practical benefits of these types of materials actually be seen? I'm all for the advancement of knowledge through all varieties of research but at some point things like this need to show some form of practicality for the simple reason that, whether it be through government grants/subsidies or through corporate grants/subsidies the people end up paying for something that is of no use to them. Case in point, 82 years of research into aero gels with no appreciable benefit, other than someone being able to claim the "lightest material" title from time to time.
j-stroy
I recall that 5 day coolers use aero-gel as the insulation... They are widely available in stores and are rated to keep ice frozen for 5 days.
BeWalt
Case in point not made, go and a) read Wikipedia to see lots of applications and, b) understand that materials like these are used in many applications, but often not referred to as "aerogel". Another tax ranter, oh dear. Case in point will be that China will overtake all of us "smart-tax-fox" infested western countries in coming decades because instead of whining about every penny of taxes, they just do stuff. "Stuff" being: Renewable energy. High speed rail. Excellence in education at all levels. Space exploration. And we? We are leaning back and pointing fingers at their coal fired power plants and human right abuses until suddenly, even all that magically disappears there, and oups: We'll have coal fired power plants and human rights abuses. Things are on the move...
Elijah Sherv
I would love to see a video of somebody playing with this material. Throwing it in the air. To get us a better idea of how much it really weighs.
Michael Lau
Feels like it is possible to make a airship out of this ultra light material.
Adrien
if it's less dense than helium, why is it sitting on the grass and not floating away?
Nantha
@ Michael Lau, I was thinking the same thing. At twice the density of hydrogen and lower than that of helium, shouldn't the thing float in air? If that is the case then it would pretty good to make solid airships (airless airships?) , with no scarcity of helium issues. It would also be great to make lots of energy efficient vehicles that can easily climb up hills, etc.
mooseman
VERY cool! I'd love to have a piece of this aerogel, just to poke around with and see how light it is.
Jennifer Linsky
I likewise find myself wondering if it could be used as lift mass... if it's between the mass of helium and hydrogen, and not as flamable as hydrogen... and not prone to leaking out of the envelope as both those gasses do....
Gavin Roe
use it in the hulls of oil tankers to prevent spills