Aerogel has been reported as nanotechnology’s wonder material of the modern times. Its several uses and multifold applications in a number of fields are already taking the scientific world by surprise and delight.
Aerogel is considered as a solid material. However most of this material (99 percent) is made up of gas, which gives it a smoke like appearance. It is highly porous and has a very low bulk density.
Ranging from protecting our homes and institutions against terrorist bombs and explosions, aerogel’s uses also include usefulness in mopping up environmentally disastrous oil spills and removing impurities such as lead and mercury from contaminated water. In addition aerogels can be helpful to man on his next mission to Mars, in space vehicles as well as the space suites of the astronauts and cosmonauts. It is an excellent shock absorber as well as a very useful thermal insulator.
Aerogel, is one of the lightest artificially produced solids; the solid component of aerogels has generally been silica or carbon. Recent research also has suggested the use of platinum. If this research becomes fruitful platinum based aerogels can be used to produce hydrogen and hydrogen based fuels.
The surface area to weight ratio is one of the highest for aerogels amidst all materials considered as solids. These characteristics of aerogels render them as an ideal material for producing super capacitors. As they have a very high surface area, these capacitors are extremely small sized in comparison to other capacitors with similar rating. Aerogel super capacitors have very low impedance in comparison to normal super capacitors. They can therefore absorb high peaks of electric current.
Aerogel is a rather recent invention which took place as nanotechnology started growing. This invention is perhaps comparable to other remarkable inventions of the last few decades which produced versatile materials such as Bakelite (which gave rise to polymers and plastics) in the 1930s.
Aerogel has also been called “frozen smoke”. It is produced by the sol-gel process which consists in extracting the liquid and/or water from a silica gel, then replacing it with a gas such as carbon dioxide. The result is a material which has extremely high insulation characteristics against very high temperatures as well as with the capacity to absorb pollutants such as crude oil.
Research is ongoing to find new applications for this wonder material as well as to make it more flexible and strong. There are already positive indications for the use of aerogels in blast proof housing, military vehicles such as tanks etc. An interesting laboratory test which brought out this possibility consisted in coating a metal plate with aerogel, a quarter of an inch in thickness. It was then given a direct blast with dynamite. The plate did not deform or bend as expected and there were not even any scars on it