Scientists at the Univeristy of Science and Technology of China have developed an environmentally friendly method of creating carbon nanotube aerogels. The ultra light, fire-resistant material is made from bacterial cellulose, and it could have a wide variety of applications in fields such as nanotechnology, electronics, optics, material science and architecture.

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Researchers at the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at Micrscale (HFNL), Univeristy of Science and Technology of China used a low-cost biomass, bacterial cellulose, which can be produced industrially in a microbial fermentation process, to fabricate the aerogels. The resulting material, composed of interconnected three-dimensional networks of cellulose nanofibers, exhibits remarkable electrical properties, extraordinary strength and efficiency in heat conduction.

Small pieces of cellulose nanofibers were trimmed, freeze-dried and then pyrolyzed at 1300 degrees Celsius under argon to convert the cellulose into graphitic carbon. The result was ultralight nanofibrous carbon aerogel with outstanding compressibility, which is impossible in case of common aerogels due to their fragility. The high surface reactivity of the carbon nanofibers in aerogel form, extremely high porosity and excellent mechanical properties predispose this material to use in many industries such as easy dyes removal or selective adsorbents for oil-spill cleanup or for 3D composite, conductive gels, catalysts support, electrodes for lithium-ion batteries or supercapacitors.