Chinese scientists say they have developed the world’s lightest material, which they expect to play an important role in tackling pollution. The new graphene aerogel created by scientists led by professor Gao Chao at the Zhejiang University weighs in at just 0.16 milligrams per cubic centimetre.
The aerogel developed by Gao and his research team was produced using freeze-dried solutions, which removed the moisture from carbon nanotubes and graphemes but retaining their integrity, creating what is now believed to be the world’s lightest material after taking the crown from aerographite which comes in at 0.18 milligrams per cubic centimetre.
“Carbon aerogel is expected to play an important role in pollution control such as oil spill control, water purification and even air purification,” said Gao, whose research paper on the material was first published online in the academic publication Advanced Materials on Feb 18,and in the research highlights column of Nature magazine.
Current oil-absorbent products usually absorb organic solvent about 10 times their own weight- the newly developed carbon aerogel can absorb up to 900 times its own weight. Aerogel canalso absorb organics quickly: 1 gram of aerogel can absorb 68.8 grams of organics persecond, making it ideal for treating oil spills at sea.
In addition to being used in pollution control, carbon aerogel is expected to become an ideal material for energy storage insulation, as a catalytic carrier, and in sound absorption. Despite its fragile appearance, carbon aerogel also has excellent elasticity and bounces back when compressed.
The freeze-drying approach makes the aerogel production process more convenient for mass production and application, said Gao, adding the research team is conducting further research on its absorption performance, as well as other applications.
The full results of the project can be found published in Nature, titled “Solid carbon, springy and light“.