Researchers have created eco-friendly aerogels that can be used for a wide range of industrial applications.
Some despair at ever-growing landfills, others see opportunities to reclaim resources. We’ve seen examples before of old clothes being re-purposed, such as a project that involved using cotton to produce aviation bio-fuel. Now, researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have discovered another use for discarded clothing.
Aerogels are not really gels; they’re solid structures full of air rather than liquid, and are compressible into tiny, easily transportable structures. We don’t see aerogels in industry too often due to typically high production costs and slow manufacturing times. However, the NUS team, by using upcycled clothing cotton, has found a much more cost-effective and efficient means of production. Manufacturing takes only 8 hours, 20 times faster than current production methods. NUS’s aerogel is highly compressible, which, the researchers suggest, will reduce transport costs, as vast amounts are transportable in small vehicles and packages. Through testing, the team discovered their aerogel can recover ninety-seven percent of its original size through liquid absorption.
Furthermore, the results demonstrate a number of potential industrial uses, particularly in combat situations for the armed forces. These include using the fibres as an anti-haemorrhaging agent. In cases of heavy bleeding such as gunshot wounds, the aerogel is injectable into the wound via syringe. It will rapidly soak up large amounts blood, automatically putting pressure on the wound and encouraging clotting. The aerogel is also extremely insulating, its structure preventing heat transfer. Therefore, its properties are useful in harsh desert environments where troops need to say cool and hydrated. The team developed ultra lightweight jackets from the aerogel that cover military canteens. These keep ice-water inside the vessels cool for over four hours without adding noticeable weight to a soldier’s load. The NUS team are currently seeking industrial partners with which to commercialize their product.
We have previously published another innovation of an aerogel being used as an insulating property within bricks for construction. What other areas of industry could benefit from the insulating and absorption properties of aerogels?