New Graphite Material Is 75 Times Lighter Than Styrofoam

AerographiteAerographite is the world’s lightest material, and has tons of interesting properties.

Photo: KU

By creating networks of hollow carbon tubes, scientists in Germany have created the lightest material in the world, which they call Aerographite. The material has many possible applications — which pretty much involve making everything we use lighter. “Our work is causing great discussions in the scientific community. Aerographite weights four times less than world-record-holder up to now,” study researcher Matthias Mecklenburg, of the Hamburg University of Technology said in a statement.

Skip right to more images of Aerographite >
The material is about 75 times lighter than styrofoam, is black in colour, and is stable at room temperature. It’s even able to conduct electricity. The material is pretty strong, though it’s bendable.

“Also, the newly constructed material absorbs light rays almost completely. One could say it creates the blackest black,” Hamburg Professor Karl Schulte said.

The material weighs 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter. Which means, a cube of this material 1 centimeter per side weighs less than a human hair (which comes in at a whopping 0.25 milligrams on average).

Aerographite can be compressed into a space 95 per cent its normal area, then stretched back out without being damaged. This stress actually makes the material stronger, Rainer Adelung of Kiel University points out: “Up to a certain point the Aerographite will become even more solid and therefore stronger than before.”

Previous world record holder for the lightest material was a structure made of hollow nickel tube, announced about six months ago. Nickel has a higher atomic mass than carbon, so the carbon-tube material is lighter. The carbon material is even lighter because these carbon walls are porous.

Some suggested uses include lighter batteries, more efficient cards and bikes, and water and air purification systems. The material also has a high tolerance for vibration, so it could even be used for aviation and satellites.

This graphic shows a detail of the world's lightest material: Aerographite. Open carbon tubes form a fine mesh and offer a low density of 0.2 milligram per cubic centimeter. The picture was taken with a scanning electron microscope.

The reactor is heated up to more than 760 degree Celsius. Gaseous zinc and steam leak out. At the image: in the dark areas there is still zinc oxide recognisable. What remains is a graphite shell (light areas).

The tetrapods of the zinc oxide form an ideal basis for the robust material Aerographite.

An Aerographite in the making. It offers enormous potential, for example in the production of batteries.

Aerographite is water-repellent, jet-black (currently being analysed) and electrically conductive.

The newly constructed material absorbs light rays, such as this green laser pointer, almost completely.

The blackest black: Samples of Aerographite.

Aerographite may make batteries lighter, but our electronics still need these expensive, Chinese minerals.

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