Last year, German scientists created aerographite, which at 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter was dubbed the world’s lightest material. However they have now been eclipsed by a team from China’s Zhejiang University that has created Graphene Aerogel – a sponge-like solid material made from freeze-dried carbon and graphene oxide that weighs just .16 milligrams per cubic centimeter. That’s just twice the density of hydrogen.
The team, headed by Professor Gao Chao, discovered that the ultra-light aerogel has surprising flexibility and oil-absorbing abilities. The team have reportedly long been developing macroscopic graphene materials, such as one-dimensional graphene fibers and two-dimensional graphene films, however this time they decided to make three-dimensional porous material out of graphene in order to break the record.
The new carbon sponge has a density lower than helium, and while this is enough to break the Guinness World Record, the Chinese team believe that the material’s true value lies in its performance. The new material is not only extremely elastic, but it can absorb up to 900 times their own weight in oil and water. It can also absorb organics at a high speed: one gram of such aerogel can absorb 68.8 grams of organics per second, which is useful in the event of an oil spill.
“Maybe one day when oil spill occurs, we can scatter them on the sea and absorb the oil quickly. Due to its elasticity, both the oil absorbed and the aerogel can be recycled,” Gao Chao said in a statement. Until that day comes, the Chinese team are still exploring its applications, of which, this writer is sure there are many.
Images © Xinhauo/Zhejiang University