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World's lightest solid material, known as 'frozen smoke', gets even lighter

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January 13, 2011

Frozen smoke is the world's lightest solid material

Frozen smoke is the world's lightest solid material

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Researchers have created a new aerogel that boasts amazing strength and an incredibly large surface area. Nicknamed ‘frozen smoke’ due to its translucent appearance, aerogels are manufactured materials derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas, resulting in a material renowned as the world’s lightest solid material. The new so-called “multiwalled carbon nanotube (MCNT) aerogel” could be used in sensors to detect pollutants and toxic substances, chemical reactors, and electronics components.

Although aerogels have been fabricated from silica, metal oxides, polymers, and carbon-based materials and are already used in thermal insulation in windows and buildings, tennis racquets, sponges to clean up oil spills, and other products, few scientists have succeeded in making aerogels from carbon nanotubes.

The researchers were able to succeed where so many before them had failed using a wet gel of well-dispersed pristine MWCNTs. After removing the liquid component from the MWCNT wet gel, they were able to create the lightest ever free-standing MWCNT aerogel monolith with a density of 4 mg/cm3.

MWCNT aerogels infused with a plastic material are flexible, like a spring that can be stretched thousands of times, and if the nanotubes in a one-ounce cube were unraveled and placed side-to-side and end-to-end, they would carpet three football fields. The MWCNT aerogels are also excellent conductors of electricity, which is what makes them ideal for sensing applications and offers great potential for their use in electronics components.

A report describing the process for making MWCNT aerogels and tests to determine their properties appears in ACS Nano.

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15 Comments

In Re: Frozen smoke: Given the material's translucent structure, its strength, and its surface area, it would be a good candidate to support photocatalysts such as titanium dioxide or

tris bipyridine ruthenium. A cubic foot of the material should be sufficient to support enough photocatalyst on board a motor vehicle to generate sufficient hydrogen and oxygen from water to operate a fuel cell to generate electricity for the vehicle's electric motor. The translucence structure would enable sunlight, or electric lighting at night, to penetrate all the way through the material. A gas separation system would be needed to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen. Generating hydrogen and oxygen on board motor vehicles from water would obviate the need to establish hydrogen re-filling stations.

Note that I am writing about a photocatalytic system, not a photo-electrochemical system.

Water is the only portable, non-carbon fuel source in the world that is available in the huge quantities required to supplant gasoline and diesel oil. Water requires no exploration, drilling, refining, tanker transportation, service station infrastructure, mining, disposal of fly ash or nuclear waste. Futhermore, there would be no pollution of the atmosphere or our waters, and no atmospheric oxygen would be consumed.

Origo

origo1
14th January, 2011 @ 08:44 am PST

What are its properties? Compressibility? Durometer hardness? Tensile strength? Could it be used for shock absorption perhaps, or especially due to its lightweight it could find applications in aerospace or bicycles? It might have ergonomic applications in seat/saddle padding, or what about its accoustic properties? Aircraft cabin lining, maybe? Is it flammable? Please tell us more!

PeetEngineer
14th January, 2011 @ 08:51 am PST

I just wonder how real and practical the photo-catalytic suggestion is. If it can be done it is the ultimate invention. You have your cubic inch of titanium dioxide or tris bipyridine ruthenium doped MCNT aerogel, a gas separator and your place in the sunlight and there it goes your personal energy self-sufficiency for ever and ever and ever. A holy grail of off- grid living. Wow!

I wonder about ads on TV for your this magic cube.

nehopsa
15th January, 2011 @ 10:26 am PST

Where can I order a piece of it? WHERE?

Charles Hügli
16th January, 2011 @ 04:06 am PST

Origo1 - converting energy into hydrogen and trying to store it is a phenomenal waste of energy. Batteries are nearly four times as efficient.

Loz
16th January, 2011 @ 08:20 pm PST

Loz, in this particular case the talk is NOT about STORING energy (even though in general you are right and "hydrogen economy" is about storing energy in hydrogen more than anything else) but about PRODUCING it. Right on the spot turning sunlight into hydrogen (and anything else down the road, even electricity for your four time more efficient batteries.

As such (and not bothering to store hydrogen and solving all the issues around it) this would indeed be magnificent. On small scale for a single off-gridder or for utility to produce electricity (not necessarily hydrogen due to all the issues with it) on large scale. Or mid-range for hydrogen refilling station hydrogen car as Origo suggests (even though I also do not believe hydrogen cars would ever be practical) ...but it would bypass the hydrogen distribution step.

You are producing hydrogen (energy) with this system and not just using it to store energy derived from some other source.

nehopsa
17th January, 2011 @ 10:23 pm PST

spacey

stuff for your

future???

Robyn Martin
18th January, 2011 @ 11:13 am PST

Wow, i'm not a scientist nor advanced chemical theorist but, this article combines with the comments would suggest this as a big deal? My first question would be what is it made of, and how much energy did it take to make the amount in the photo? 2. how much of this material would need to be produced at a break-even point? Are there any military applications for this product and how can it be KEPT from such applications. If it is such a truly valid power source how long before it can be given away to countries under the boot of petro-politics?

Trevor Cutrer
18th January, 2011 @ 01:33 pm PST

As a matter of fact this was my original question on Origo1 whether this proces would be "real" and "practical".

As far as the latter is concerned, you will not be able to collect more energy then energy density of sunlight in your location, which is in the area of a kilowatt per square meter (ten sq feet) at noon. You cannot exceed this as you would produce energy out of nothing/create perpetuum mobile of the first (strong) kind. The real world efficiency would be at least an order of magnitude below that. This gives you hundreds of watts. Such a system would definitely NOT be able to drive your car (with you cubic foot of frozen smoke doped with catalysts). So the conclusion #1 is the proposal is not really practical. (You could use concentrators and do other tricks which would increase complexity of your set up and its cost, not a good thing to do).

The other question was if it is "real" by which I mean doable...if the photo catalyst would bond to the frozen smoke lattice and not washed out, if it would work at all... I cannot answer this part without specific knowledge and background.

nehopsa
18th January, 2011 @ 10:55 pm PST

This isnt as cool as the last thing i saw it is very awseome full of ever gabejh balls and stuipd stuff just wonder how real and practical the photo The real world efficiency would be at least an order of magnitude below that. This gives you hundreds of watts. Such a system would definitely NOT be able to drive your car (with you cubic foot of frozen smoke doped with catalysts). So the conclusion #1 is the proposal is not really practical. (You could use concentrators if it is "real" by which I mean doable...if the photo catalyst would bond to the frozen smoke lattice and not washed out, if it would work at all... I cannot answer this part

Dicky dopy dicker
9th February, 2011 @ 05:08 pm PST

how strong is this and how much does it weigh per sq. in.. I'm a car designer and i wanna know if u can use this on them.

Facebook User
20th March, 2011 @ 03:47 pm PDT

Put huge blobs into orbit to collect space junk. Its large surface area would heighten drag, and it would fall out of orbit and burn up much faster than dense materials.

Brian Hall
14th September, 2011 @ 03:11 am PDT

It's not obvious from the article but MWCNT aerogel isn't the world record for lightest material, it's still silica aerogel:

"The Laboratory's aerogel, which is listed in Guinness World Records 2004, has a density of only 1.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter."

https://www.llnl.gov/str/October03/NewsOctober03.html

Matthew Rollings
28th September, 2011 @ 06:51 am PDT

This is cool... use it like a cloud in a glass tube with some boron ... make it crystalize.

Mark DaShark
10th October, 2011 @ 09:32 pm PDT

The expense of frozen smoke seems to be its downfall. Surely it must have numerous potential uses but it seems that getting it in the hands of the public at a reasonable price just never happened. I would think that thermal insulation would be a great use for this material.

Apparently there was no willingness to invest in large scale production of frozen smoke.

Jim Sadler
18th November, 2011 @ 10:06 am PST
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