If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Carbon Aerogels Sop Up Hydrocarbons

Porous ultralight materials made from bacterial cellulose could be used to clean up oil and fuel spills

by Elizabeth K. Wilson
March 4, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 9

Credit: Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.
A piece of cellulose-based aerogel absorbs gasoline (red), leaving behind water.
An aerogel soaks up gasoline in a dish.
Credit: Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.
A piece of cellulose-based aerogel absorbs gasoline (red), leaving behind water.

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.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.