Carbon aerogel created by Chinese scientists from Zhejiang University has a measured density of 0.16 mg/cubic centimeter or one-sixth as dense as air! The ultra-light synthetic material is also able to absorb up to 900 times its own weight, offering environmentalists a potentially useful tool for cleaning up oil spills and hazardous waste leaks.
Though aerogels as a class of discrete materials have been around since 1931, the Zhejiang University team led by Professor Gao Chou (above) has successfully raised the bar by employing freeze-dried solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to produce a substance so light it's positively record-breaking: carbon aerogel's 0.16 mg/cubic centimeter density is slightly lower than the 0.18 mg/cubic centimeter density measurement achieved by graphite aerogel produced by German scientists in 2012.
The inclusion of carbon nanotubes provides the new aerogel with a remarkably sponge-like level of elasticity. In other words, it springs back to its original shape and size after being compressed. This sponginess could benefit efforts in the field of environmental remediation due to the new carbon aerogel 's structure being 99% empty space. Indeed, “Carbon aerogel is expected to play an important role in pollution control such as oil spill control, water purification and even air purification,” confirmed Professor Gao Chou.
A major drawback to the use of aerogels on a commercial and industrial scale thus far has been the great expense required to produce large quantities. The problem is magnified further by the current high cost of producing carbon nanotubes.
According to the Zhejiang University team's official press release, however, their pioneering method of freeze-drying solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene in order to remove moisture and retain integrity not only makes the process of producing carbon aerogel more convenient, it also opens the door for mass production and large-scale applications. (via Shanghaiist, Inhabitat, and RDMag)