Aerographite: The World's Lightest Material0

Ysabel Yates | Tue Jul 31 2012

Weighing in at only 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter, a new material called Aerographite is now the world’s lightest. Electrically conductive and highly compressible, the material could one day be used in batteries to help advance green transportation.

A team of scientists from Kiel University and the Hamburg University of Technology created the new material using zinc oxide particles and carbon nanotubes. The researchers published a paper on their findings on July 3rd in the journal Advanced Materials.

Jet-black, chemically stable, and 75 times lighter than Styrofoam, Aerographite is strong enough to resist damage. In fact, the material can be compressed up to 95 percent and returned to its original form without any damage. Through tension and compression, Aerographite even becomes stronger up to a certain point.

The lightest material has potential for green transportation.

It’s also electrically conductive, giving it excellent potential for the creation of smaller, lighter batteries. These lightweight batteries could be used to further develop green transportation by increasing the miles-per-charge in electric vehicles.

In addition to battery technology, Matthias Mecklenburg, a Ph.D. student at the Hamburg University of Technology and co-author of the paper, sees potential applications for the material such as cleaning contaminated water, and optical and x-ray absorption.

“It took many, many syntheses to get what we wanted to have: A light, porous, designable graphitic monolithic structure,” says Mecklenburg.

Light, porous, designable.

According to Mecklenburg, Kiel University had “a new recipe” to create 3-dimensional micro nanostructures from zinc oxide. At the University of Hamburg, there is “expertise in the growth of carbon nanostructures” using chemical vapor deposition. To synthesize the material, the two research teams combined their strengths.

“The joint decision was to put both processes together to get 3-dimensional hybrid zinc oxide and carbon structures,” says Mecklenburg. “Directly at this moment the idea was born, to create new graphite structures. Until then, no real approach existed.”

The researcher’s next step is to focus on Aerographite’s physical properties to demonstrate its potential for various applications.

Top image: The tetrapods of the zinc oxide, which form the basis for Aerographite. Courtesy Hamburg University of Technology/The University of Kiel.