Scientists at Zhejiang University have developed a kind of ultra-light material called Carbon Aerogel.
The sponge-like matter is made of freeze-dried carbon and graphene oxide and is the lightest solid material in the world. With a weight of just 0.16 miligrams per cubic centimeter, it is just twice the density of hydrogen – the simplest of all elements – and less dense than helium.
Aerogel is a material produced with semi-solid gel dried and solvent removed. It appears in a solid state with many internal pores filled with air, and thus it’s of minimal density. Prof. Gao Chao’s research team freeze-dried solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to remove moisture and retain integrity, producing Aerogel that broke the record for the world’s lightest material. The previous world record holder was graphite Aerogel produced by German scientists in 2012 with 0.18 mg/cubic centimeter.
In its pure state, the substance is a two-dimensional crystal of pure carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice described by some as ‘atomic chickenwire’; this makes it the thinnest material ever made. You would need to stack three million graphene sheets on top of each other to get a pile one millimeter high.
Despite its fragile appearance, Carbon Aerogel is excellent in elasticity. It can bounce back when compressed. In addition, it’s one of the materials with the biggest oil absorption capacity. Current oil absorbing products can usually absorb organic solvent of about 10 times of their own weight. The newly developed Carbon Aerogel can absorb up to 900 times its own weight.
Now the team is conducting further research on the absorption performance and application of Aerogel. In addition to pollution control, Carbon Aerogel is expected to become an ideal material for energy storage insulation, catalytic carriers and sound-absorption.