Lightest Material in The World
Discover how Aerographite was developed and what unique applications it might offer in the future
Aerographite is a revolutionary new material that consists of a network of porous carbon tubes.
Aerographite appears jet-black
– as its structure means that it absorbs almost all visible light, can conduct electricity and, most importantly, is incredibly ductile
– the latter quality allowing it to be drawn out and manipulated, something that grants it a wide range of applications.
The reason that aerographite is so light is three-fold. Firstly, the carbon tubes are not solid but actually empty shells. Secondly, carbon has a very low atomic mass – far more so than the previous lightest material in the world which was nickel based. And thirdly, in addition to the tubes being hollow, their walls are also porous. Combined, this trio of characteristics generates a material that is 75 times lighter than Styrofoam and a staggering 56,700 times lighter than lead.
Such a complex material requires, as you would expect, an equally complex manufacturing process. Aerographite is made by first building a kind of skeleton, or frame, out of crystallized zinc oxide, which is achieved by heating zinc oxide powder to 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit) in an oven. From this crystallised material, a kind of pill is created in which a matrix of zinc-oxide micro and nano-tetrapods develop. The four-sided jack-shaped tetrapods interweave and construct a stable entity of particles to form the skeleton.
The skeleton-filled pill is then deposited into a reactor for chemical vapour deposition. Here, a streaming gas atmosphere enriched with carbon covers the skeleton with a graphite coating only a few atomic layers thick. It is this coating that creates the web-like structures of the aerographite. Once this is achieved, hydrogen is introduced to the chamber, which reacts with the oxygen in the zinc oxide tetrapod skeleton, causing it to vaporize and leak out through the porous walls of the graphite coating. The culmination of this process leaves hollow tubes of super-light aerographite, which can then be extracted.
Lead – With this heavy metal clocking in at 11,340 milligrams per cubic centimetre (6.5549 ounces per cubic inch), aerographite smashes it in terms of weight, with the new material roughly 56,700 times lighter.
Aluminium – The supposedly super-light metal aluminium weighs 2,700 milligrams per cubic centimetre (1.5607 ounces per cubic inch). Nevertheless, it is still nowhere near as light as aerographite, which is 13,500 times lighter than it.
Bone – Super-strong and light bone weighs 1,850 milligrams per cubic centimetre (1.0694 ounces per cubic inch), which is over six times lighter than lead. But this organic material remains some way off aerographite, with the latter weighing 9,250 times less.
Cork – Cork is so light that it can float on water. However, at 160 milligrams per cubic centimetre (0.0924 ounces per cubic inch), cork is still approximately 800 times heavier than aerographite.
Nickel microlattice – Famous for being so light it could rest on a dandelion seed head, at 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimetre (0.0005 ounces per cubic inch) aerographite is impressively four times less heavy.