We have talked about aerogels before and told you how amazing the future of super materials looks. The recent development in context of aerogels comes in the form of scientists managing to manufacture aerogel by making use of cellulose fibers taken from recycled paper, thus rendering the final product as biodegradable.
For now, the cost of manufacturing aerogel is quite high owing to the involvement of silica gel and the method employed for the solid’s creation. The new approach allows the aerogel industry to make use of a more economic and greener approach, thereby opening new doors to take further advantage of material’s properties.
The process that has been used is quite simple and involves breaking down paper shreds into cellulose using water – a method that was developed at the National University of Singapore. Following the breakdown, polymer resin and water is added to start the process. Subsequently, water is extracted from the mix by making use of a high frequency sound machine. The material is then subjected to a day of freezing followed by air drying. Once the air drying is complete, the process is concluded after a curing that is carried out in an oven at 114 °C for 3 hours.
The process’ end result is an aerogel based on cellulose and featuring 98.2% air. Despite this, it is still flexible and features high insulation properties. A chemical coating can be applied for making this amazing material hydrophobic as well.
Among many possible applications of the new material, one is about the cleaning up of oil spills. The solid, porous in nature, is capable of soaking up about 90% of its dry weight in crude oil without taking in even a single drop of water thanks to its hydrophobic properties. 99% of the absorbed oil can be rung out, thus allowing for reuse in the cleaning process again.
The material can also be used as a very thin building insulation that is hydrophobic and capable of taking load. If the material is not chemically coated, it acts hydrophilic and can be used in hygiene products or diapers.
It is not clear that when will this material be available for consumers, however, this amazing discovery can usher the aerogel industry into quite a progressive era.