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 aerogel

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

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 aerogel are somewhat similar to graphene foams. Graphene foams are usually made by CVD growth on a metal structure (which is later removed), and are so more conductive than graphene aerogels.

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

Latest Graphene Aerogel news

3D printed graphene aerogel awarded Guiness World Record

Jun 29, 2017

Guiness World Records has named a 3D printed graphene aerogel as "the least dense 3D printed structure". The 3D printed graphene aerogel, developed by a Kansas State University, University at Buffalo and Lanzhou University (China) team, weighs 0.5 milligrams per cubic centimeter. This achievement will be featured in the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 2018 Edition.

The way the researchers print the three-dimensional graphene is also regarded as revolutionary. The researchers use a modified inkjet printer that uses two nozzles. They 3D print droplets of a graphene oxide and water mixture in a freezer on a cold plate that is minus 20 degrees Celsius. This method creates a 3D ice structure of graphene and frozen water, which helps the graphene to maintain its shape.

Chinese team created graphene aerogels inspired by plant structure

Jun 22, 2017

Researchers at Zhejiang University in China have designed a graphene-based aerogel mimicking the structure of the "powdery alligator-flag" plant that could have potential for use in applications like flexible electronics.

Graphene aerogel based on plant structure image

The team drew inspiration from the stem structure of the powdery alligator-flag plant (Thalia dealbata), a strong, lean plant capable of withstanding harsh winds. The researchers used a bidirectional freezing technique that they previously developed to assemble a new type of biomimetic graphene aerogel that had an architecture like that of the plant's stem. When tested, the material supported 6,000 times its own weight and maintained its strength after intensive compression trials and was resilient. They also put the aerogel in a circuit with a LED and found it could potentially work as a component of a flexible device.

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Researchers from China create graphene aerogel that converts sunlight into heat to produce water vapor at room temperature

May 21, 2017

Researchers at the Chinese Hubei University have designed a graphene aerogel film capable of producing water vapor at room temperature using only sunlight. The aerogel floats on the surface, where it heats up only a small part of the water column, ‘while the temperature of the bulk water is far below the boiling point’, the team explains.

Graphene aerogel assists water treatment image

This sunlight-harvesting graphene film could convert sea or wastewater into drinking water in places where fuel or access to electricity is limited. Desalinating seawater to make it drinkable usually means boiling it, and then collecting and condensing the steam. Heating water to its boiling point, however, requires quite a lot of energy, which is not always easy to come by. There are solar stills that desalinate water using only sunlight, but they’re slow and not always efficient enough to provide sufficient drinking water for a person’s daily needs.

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.

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