|A hand holding an aerogel. / Photo by: NASA & JPL-Caltech via Wikimedia Commons|
Aerogels have been used in numerous applications like manufacturing thickening agents and paints. But the brittleness of these materials sometimes limits their use in certain products. Thus, a group of researchers developed extremely elastic and cost-effective aerogels for industry use.
Aerogels can be made of different substances, such as silica, resorcinol-formaldehyde, and methyltrimethoxysilane. These materials are known to be porous, have low densities, and consist of a solid framework. However, these properties cannot handle some processes in manufacturing like cutting, drilling, and milling.
A team of researchers at Kyoto University led by Kazuki Nakanishi and Kazuyoshi Kanamori developed an unusual class of aerogels. Their materials were based on monomers vinyldimethylmethoxysilane and vinylmethyldimethoxysilane. These monomers were first connected into polymer chains by radial polymerization through the double bonds in their respective vinyl groups. Via inexpensive air pressure or freeze drying, the team was able to form aerogels with tailored porosity.
The newly produced aerogels have delicate structures but are highly elastic, which means these can be bent, cut, rolled, and twisted, making them compatible with most manufacturing processes. Furthermore, cross-linking the silane side chain of the monomer can exhibit high thermal insulation properties and the insulation capability has been found to be better, compared to traditional materials including polyurethane foam.
To know more about these unusual aerogels, the researchers conducted a deeper investigation and they discovered that exposure to a mixture of water and hexane did certain wonders. The materials absorbed the hexane from the mixture and it can perform the method repeatedly until the water has completely separated from the hexane. This would allow different compounds like oils and solvents to be separated in a body of water using the aerogels.
According to Phys.org, the team also produced composites using the aerogels and electrically conducting graphene nanoplatelets. The nanoplatelets displayed conductivity reversal if put under pressure, giving them a potential in producing electronic devices.