Materials

World-first aerogel is made from plastic bottles, and has many potential uses

The process, which is said to be easily scalable for mass production, can produce an A4-paper-sized aerogel sheet from a single bottle
The process, which is said to be easily scalable for mass production, can produce an A4-paper-sized aerogel sheet from a single bottle
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The process, which is said to be easily scalable for mass production, can produce an A4-paper-sized aerogel sheet from a single bottle
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The process, which is said to be easily scalable for mass production, can produce an A4-paper-sized aerogel sheet from a single bottle
From left: Research Engineer Mr. Duyen Khac Le; Final year NUS Mechanical Engineering student Ryan Leung; Prof. Nhan; Assoc. Prof. Duong; and Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology collaborator Dr. Wendy Zhang 
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From left: Research Engineer Mr. Duyen Khac Le; Final year NUS Mechanical Engineering student Ryan Leung; Prof. Nhan; Assoc. Prof. Duong; and Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology collaborator Dr. Wendy Zhang 
The aerogel can be used in face masks that filter out dust particles and carbon dioxide
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The aerogel can be used in face masks that filter out dust particles and carbon dioxide

Pop bottles are one of the most common types of plastic waste, so the more ways that we can find of recycling them, the better. With that in mind, researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed an inexpensive method of converting such bottles into a very useful aerogel.

Led by Assoc. Prof. Hai Minh Duong and Prof. Nhan Phan-Thien, the NUS team started with bottles made from commonly-used polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The PET was rendered down into fibers, which were then coated with silica. From there, the production process got pretty complex, but it basically involved chemically-treating the fibers so that they swelled up, and then drying them out.

The resulting lightweight, porous, flexible and durable aerogel is the world's first such material to be made from PET, and it has many potential applications.

If coated with various methyl-group compounds, for instance, it can absorb spilled oil up to seven times more effectively than other commercially-available sorbent materials. It could also be used as thermal or acoustic insulation in buildings, or (when coated with an amine-group compound) as a filter that captures dust particles and carbon dioxide in reusable face masks. The researchers are additionally looking into surface modifications that would allow the material to trap toxic gases such as carbon monoxide.

The aerogel can be used in face masks that filter out dust particles and carbon dioxide
The aerogel can be used in face masks that filter out dust particles and carbon dioxide

Perhaps its best use, though, would be as protective insulation in firefighters' coats. When the material was coated with fire-retardant chemicals, it was able to withstand temperatures of up to 620 ºC (1,148 ºF). The aerogel weighs only about 10 percent as much as protective insulation currently used in such coats, though, plus it's softer and more flexible.

NUS has patented the technology, and is now looking for industrial partners to help commercialize it. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Colloids and Surfaces A.

Source: National University of Singapore

6 comments
Trylon
If it's good for building insulation and soft and flexible enough for firefighters' turnout gear, why not an untreated, non-fire retardant version for civilian winter outerwear? It might be able to give Primaloft and maybe even goose down a run for their money. Wouldn't be as compressible as down, but other than hikers, most people don't care about compressibility.
david239
The material you describe is not an aerogel.
YuraG
As a protective insulation in firefighters' coats it will face a tough competition from cheap and established fibers, e.g. basalt which copes well with higher temps and has a very sweet price point.
christopher
Sounds like a whole new way to succumb to Silicosis...
EZ
So, what happens when the 2nd use is done? More recycling into "useful" products?
amazed W1
I won't bet on it but I reckon it'll be some time before the significant effect of the non-combustible coating allows the material to be used where it really is needed - in insulating buildings. The current UK parliamentary demand is for nothing in facades of taller buildings to be "combustible", the meaning of the word not being explained in context or detail, and the way the material is used and treated, and the design of elements in which it is used, are simply not considered. Political expediency means that Safety Now overrules sustainability, i.e. the safety of future generations.