I remember being introduced to the properties of aerogels in my undergrad Physics class on Applications of Nanotechnology. I’m pretty sure they’ve gotten the density down by 10x over the last 2 years or so, that’s fairly incredible.
I read this article on Gizmag but take a look at the source link at bottom; it’s better written despite the broken English. I especially like the University website describing the material as “… just like a new-born baby”. Ah, China.
Graphene aerogel takes world’s lightest material crown
Created by a research team from China’s Zhejiang University in the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering lab headed by Professor Gao Chao, the ultra-light aerogel has a density (0.16 mg/cm3) lower than that of helium and just twice that of hydrogen.
Pic stolen from graphene-info.com (link)
Building on experience in developing macroscopic graphene materials, including one-dimensional graphene fibers and two-dimensional graphene films, the team decided to add another dimension and make a three-dimensional porous material out of graphene in an attempt to claim the record.
Gao and his team used a new freeze-drying method that involved freeze-drying solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to create a carbon sponge that can be arbitrarily adjusted to any shape.
The result is a material the team claims is very strong and extremely elastic, bouncing back after being compressed. It can also absorb up to 900 times its own weight in oil and do so quickly, with one gram of aerogel able to absorb up to 68.8 grams of organics per second – making it attractive for mopping up oil spills at sea.
“Maybe one day when oil spill occurs, we can scatter them on the sea and absorb the oil quickly,” said Gao. “Due to its elasticity, both the oil absorbed and the aerogel can be recycled.”
The researchers are examining other possible applications and say it also has potential as a phase change energy storage insulation material, catalytic carrier or efficient composite.
The graphene aerogel is detailed in a paper published in the journal Nature (link)
Source: Zhejiang University (link to article)
For laypeople: A cubic metre is the size of one of those bulky boxes you see on the back of utility vehicles (for pest control, waste management etc). One of those boxes filled with water weighs a tonne; a cubic meter of this stuff would weigh about 160 grams.