Science

Graphene Aerogel Is The Lightest Material On Earth

By Sean Kane , Mar 25, 2013 03:33 PM EDT

Graphene aerogel now claims the title of lightest material on Earth.

A team from Zhejiang University in China developed the material, which dethroned the previous record holder, aerographite. The material is dense than helium, and only twice as dense as hydrogen.

Aerogels are nothing new. They were first developed by Samuel Stephens Kristler in 1931. Simply put, aerogels are gels that, instead of consisting of liquid, are made of a gas. The super lightweight materials have been described as “frozen smoke.”

The race for the world’s lightest material has been changing frequently in the past years. A “multiwalled carbon nanotube (MCNT) aerogel” with a density of 4 mg/cm3 lost the title in January 2011 to a micro-lattice material with a density of 0.9 mg/cm3. And less than a year later, a new king of the light was crowned, smashing the former record again. This time, it was aerographite, with a density of 0.18 mg/cm3.

Now, graphene aerogel has grabbed the title, although this time it’s a small gain. The new lightest material on Earth is a svelte 0.16 mg/cm3. The researchers who created the graphene aerogel, led by Gao Chao, added a third dimension to the new wonder material, graphene. Formerly, graphene had come in the form of one-dimensional fibers, or two-dimensional films.

Gao’s team eschewed the template-based methods normally used to create aerogels. Instead, they freeze-dried carbon nanotube and graphene solutions, creating a carbon sponge that can be adjusted to any shape.

“With no need for templates, its size only depends on that of the container,” Gao told GizMag. “Bigger containers can help produce the aerogel in bigger size, even to thousands of cubic centimeters or larger.”

There is a ton of potential applications for this aerogel. And while our personal favorite is a graphene aerogel blimp, Gao suggested an oil spill clean-up method.

“Maybe one day when [an] oil spill occurs, we can scatter them on the sea and absorb the oil quickly,” he said. “Due to its elasticity, both the oil absorbed and the aerogel can be recycled.”

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