Back on July 15th, we introduced readers of this blog to what will probably go on to become Germany’s major contribution to the new 21st century golden age of carbon. (Aerographite Arrives From Hamburg And Kiel.) Back then I wrote:
“I suspect that this decade and next, we are going to hear a lot more about Aerographite and some of the wonderful uses it can be put to. Once next generation “spintronic,” atomic dimension, transistors arrive, providing true super computers, probably next decade rather than this, aerographite modelling and graphene modelling, will likely result in fast uptake of the new material.”
Yesterday mainstream media caught up. Below Bloomberg follows the Graphite Blog’s lead.
A Lighter-Than-Air Building Material
By Drake Bennett on August 09, 2012
—-This summer, as Olympic athletes go faster, higher, and stronger in London, a record has fallen in a lab in Hamburg: Scientists have created the world’s lightest material. The new carbon nanomaterial, called Aerographite, weighs 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter. That’s less than a quarter the weight of the last record-holder, a nickel-phosphorous microlattice created by American researchers last year. And it’s six times lighter than air.
Nanotechnology researchers have been working with carbon nanotubes for years (as the name suggests, these are very, very small tubes made of carbon atoms), building everything from superlight bicycles to medical implants. What the German team (from the University of Hamburg and the University of Kiel) figured out was how to build a network of branching nanotubules, thereby making the material stronger and a better conductor of electricity—two qualities that make it much more widely useful in electronics. The unprecedented lightness was an unexpected bonus.
—-Because of its extraordinary lightness and strength, though, as well as its compressibility (it can be squashed down by 95 percent without any damage) and ability to conduct electricity, its creators believe it can be used to create better batteries and other electrical components like supercapacitors. Using Aerographite would remove weight, of course, but, more important for power sources, could add energy—the anodes in batteries work by storing electrons, and all of the tiny pores in Aerographite are spaces for electrons to become embedded.
A cubic centimeter of Aerographite is 99.99 percent air, and perhaps the weirdest thing about it is that all that air actually makes the material heavier. Normally, things are light because they’re airy—as in Styrofoam or cotton candy. Not so with Aerographite, whose carbon nanotubes are actually less dense than the molecules in a cubic centimeter of air (six times less, as you’ll recall). The air in Aerographite weighs it own. Suck it out somehow, and the stuff would just lift off the table like a helium balloon.
Of course it’s far too early to know where this new super-material Aerographite will lead, but any material that’s about 99.99% air and is the lightest, strongest, compressible electrical conductor, has real possibilities. Just wait until follow up research replaces the air with a vacuum, or other gases. Back in July, I wrote:
“Think in terms of Frank Sprague electrifying subways and elevators around the turn of the 20th century, but at a 21st century speed level. Back then he made mass transit, fast subway travel a reality for the world’s major cities. Effectively making urban sprawl an economic reality. He also made possible the modern, ever higher skyscraper. Fast safe elevators, both local and express. Our cities have never looked back since. I suspect that something similar is about to happen with aerographite and graphene.”
My guess is that I grossly underestimate the potential next decade of Aerographite.