Econintersect: A new record has been set for the lightest material in the world. And the record was not by just a little; the new material is 4-times lighter (less dense) than the previous record holder. The new material is a network of porous carbon tubes that is three-dimensionally interwoven at the nano and micro levels. The density is only 0.2 mg per cubic centimeter, which makes it 75-times lighter than Styrofoam, the featherweight material that holds things like coffee.
In spite of its ultra-light weight the new material is very strong, crushable, restorable to initial shape and conducts electricity. Crushing and restoration of shape actually increases the strength of the material. It replaces a similar nanotube structure made out of nickel as the world’s lightest material. The nickel structure had held the record for only six months.
The work was reported in the July issue of Advanced Materials, first published 24 June 2012. The scientists who worked on the project that built and characterized the new material are from Kiel University (KU) and Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH). Members of the team from the two universities included: Matthias Mecklenburg, Arnim Schuchard, Professor Rainer Adelung, Yogendra Mishra, Sören Kaps, Karl Schulte, Professor Lorenz Kienle and Dr. Andriy Lotnyk.
R&D Magazine has summarized some possible applications for the new material:
Due to its unique material characteristics, Aerographite could fit onto the electrodes of Li-ion batteries. In that case, only a minimal amount of battery electrolyte would be necessary, which then would lead to an important reduction in the battery’s weight. This purpose was sketched by the authors in a recently published article. Areas of application for these small batteries might be electronic cars or e-bikes. Thus, the material contributes to the development of green means of transportation.
According to the scientists, further areas of application could be the electrical conductivity of synthetic materials. Non-conductive plastic could be transformed, without causing it to gain weight. Statics, which occur to most people daily, could hence be avoided.
The number of further possible areas of application for the lightest material in the world is limitless. After officially acknowledging Aerographite, scientists of various research areas were bursting with ideas. One possibility might be the use in electronics for aviation and satellites because they have to endure high amounts of vibration. Also, the material might be a promising aid in water purification. It might act as an adsorbent for persistent water pollutants for it could oxidise or decompose and remove these. Here, scientists would benefit from Aerographite’s advantages namely mechanical stability, electronic conductivity and a large surface. Another possibility might be the purification of ambient air for incubators or ventilation.
For technologists here is a summary of the electrical and mechanical characteristics of Aerographite from the Advanced Materials paper:
Click on graphic for larger image.
- Aerographite: Ultra Lightweight, Flexible Nanowall, Carbon Microtube Material with Outstanding Mechanical Performance (Matthias Mecklenburg , Arnim Schuchardt , Yogendra Kumar Mishr, Sören Kaps,Rainer Adelung , Andriy Lotnyk , Lorenz Kienle , and Karl Schulte, Advanced Materials, 24 June 2012)
- Scientists produce world’s lightest material (R&D, 17 July 2012)