Issue Date: March 4, 2013
Carbon Aerogels Sop Up Hydrocarbons
Foamy, ultralight aerogels made of carbon, like their more well studied silicon-based cousins, have innumerable potential uses, from catalysts to sensors. Until now, their synthesis has been expensive or complicated, or has required toxic materials. Shu-Hong Yu and colleagues at the University of Science & Technology of China report a simple, environmentally friendly method for producing carbon-based aerogels from bacterial cellulose (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., DOI: 10.1002/anie.201209676). The cellulose is readily produced in large quantities by fermentation, the researchers note. Heating chunks of the material to 1,300 °C transforms it into an ultralight network of graphite fibers. The aerogels can withstand extreme heat and have spongelike properties that allow them to soak up to 310 times their weight in oils or organic liquids such as gasoline. The researchers suggest the material could be used in environmental cleanup projects, with an added benefit that the material can be cleaned by distillation or heating and then reused. The carbon aerogel’s electrical conductivity also changes when compressed, making it a potential pressure-sensing material.
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