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What is aerogel?

Aerogel is created by combining a polymer with a solvent to form a gel, and then removing the liquid from the gel and replacing it with gas (usually air). The high air content (99.98% air by volume) makes it one of the world's lightest solid material. Aerogels can be made from a variety of chemical compounds, and are a diverse class of materials with unique properties. They are known as excellent insulators, and usually have low density and low thermal conductivity.

Aerogels can be used in various applications, and although they have been around since the 1930s, their development is still progressing (for example, NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland has invented several groundbreaking methods of creating new types of aerogels).

Common applications include enhancing the thermal performance of energy-saving materials and sustainable products for buildings, acting as a high performance additive to coatings, prevention of corrosion under insulation, uses in imaging devices, optics, and light guides, thermal breaks and condensation control, architectural lighting panels, outdoor and sports gear and clothing, and more.

Graphene aerogels

Graphene aerogels, also known as aerographene, are considered to be the least dense solid in existence (graphene aerogels are light enough to be balanced on small plants!).

Graphene aerogel on cherry blossom photo

Graphene aerogels are quite elastic and can easily retain their original form after some compression. In addition, the low density of graphene aerogels makes them very absorbent (to the point where it can even absorb more than 850 times its own weight). This means that it could be useful for environmental clean-ups like oil spills, and the aerogels only need to be picked up later after absorbing the spilled material. Graphene aerogel may also have some applications in both the storage and the transfer of energy by enabling the creation of lighter, higher-energy-density batteries - and vigorous research is being done on the matter.

Graphene aerogels are already being sold commercially, for about about $300 per gram.

Latest Graphene Aerogel news

GRAMOFON project aims to capture CO2 with the help of graphene aerogels

Dec 08, 2016

Project GRAMOFON, a 3.5 year project that started in October 2016, aims to establish a process for efficient CO2 capture by innovative adsorbents based on modified graphene aerogels and MOF materials. The EU will contribute nearly €4.2 million to the project.

The key objectives of GRAMOFON projects are:

  • to develop and prototype a new energy and cost-competitive dry separation process for post-combustion CO2 capture based on innovative hybrid porous solids Metal organic frameworks (MOFs) and Graphene Oxide nanostructures.
  • to optimize the CO2 desorption process by means of Microwave Swing Desorption (MSD) and Joule effect, that will surpass the efficiency of the conventional heating procedures.

Graphene oxide enables thermoacoustic speakers

Sep 11, 2016

Researchers at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a new graphene oxide-based speaker design said to be specifically targeted for the mobile audio market. The speaker does not require an acoustic box to produce sound.

The researchers used graphene in a relatively simple, two-step process that yielded a thermoacoustic speaker. Thermoacoustics is based on the idea that sound can be produced by the rapid heating and cooling of a material instead of through vibrations.

Graphene for the Display and Lighting Industries

New method doubles performance of 3D printed supercapacitors

Jun 19, 2016

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) have designed a technique that could double the performance of 3D printed graphene-based supercapacitors. The new technique involves sandwiching lithium ion and perchlorate ion between layers of graphene in aerogel electrodes—a process which greatly improves the capacity of the electrodes while maintaining the high rate capability of the devices.

Scientists double performance of 3D printed graphene aerogel supercapacitors

The 3D printing process used by the researchers to build the supercapacitors is a form of direct ink writing, consisting of two ion-intercalation steps before the hydrolysis of perchlorate ion intercalation compounds. According to the team “this two-step electrochemical process increases the surface area of graphene-based materials for charge storage, as well as the number of pseudo-capacitive sites that contribute additional storage capacity”.

New technique for 3D printing graphene aerogels could open door to new applications

Mar 01, 2016

Researchers at Kansas State University, University of Buffalo and the State University of New York have designed a new technique for 3D printing graphene aerogels with complex microstructures. The technique combines drop-on-demand 3D printing with freeze casting.

New technique for 3d printing graphene aerogels image

Aerogels are light and spongy materials that can be used as both thermal and optical insulators and can potentially be used as batteries and catalysts within electronic components. Recent years have brought about methods in which aerogels can be produced with certain 3D printers. The scientists have now developed a new 3D printing technique for producing graphene aerogels, which they hope will open up new uses for the material.

Graphene-based inks to 3D print ultralight supercapacitors

Feb 10, 2016

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Santa Cruz have demonstrated what might be the world's first 3D-printed graphene composite aerogel supercapacitor, using a technique known as direct-ink writing. The researchers suggest that their ultra-lightweight graphene aerogel supercapacitors may open the door to novel designs of highly efficient energy storage systems for smartphones, wearables, implantable devices, electric cars and wireless sensors.

3d printed supercaps image

The key factor in developing these novel aerogels is creating an extrudable graphene oxide-based composite ink and modifying the 3D printing method to accommodate aerogel processing. The 3D-printed graphene composite aerogel (3D-GCA) electrodes are lightweight, highly conductive, and exhibit excellent electrochemical properties. Supercapacitors using these 3D-GCA electrodes with thicknesses on the order of millimeters display exceptional capacitive retention (ca. 90% from 0.5 to 10 A·g−1) and power densities (>4 kW·kg−1).