Apr. 23, 2015 | By Simon

Aerogel, which is called “Liquid Smoke”, is a synthetic porous ultralight material that’s aderived from gel.  Unlike more traditional ‘gel’ substances, the liquid portion of aerogel is replaced with a gas - which ultimately results in an extremely low-density solid that features low thermal conductivity.


While aerogels are traditionally produced by extracting the liquid component of a gel through supercritical drying - thus, allowing the liquid the be dried off without it collapsing from capillary action - today’s researchers have been able to create next-generation on-demand with the aid of additive manufacturing technologies.  

Recently, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California have made graphene aerogel that is capable of making for better energy storage, sensors, nanoelectronics, catalysis and separations.  

The researchers were able to create the graphene aerogel microlattices with an engineered support system using direct ink writing - a 3D printing technique commonly used with nano-scale structures that allows one to design and rapidly fabricate materials in complex 3D shapes without the need for expensive tooling, dies, or lithographic masks.

Among other benefits of the new 3D printed graphene aerogel include high surface area, great electrical conductivity, mechanical stiffness, exhibit supercompressibility and are extremely lightweight.  Previous attempts to create similar materials resulted in randomized structures that lacked consistent features needed to use the material efficiently.     

“Making graphene aerogels with tailored macro-architectures for specific applications with a controllable and scalable assembly method remains a significant challenge that we were able to tackle,” said engineer and researcher Marcus Worsley.

“3D printing allows one to intelligently design the pore structure of the aerogel, permitting control over mass transport (aerogels typically require high pressure gradients to drive mass transport through them due to small, tortuous pore structure) and optimization of physical properties, such as stiffness. This development should open up the design space for using aerogels in novel and creative applications.”

Worsley, along with other Livermore researchers including  Yong-Jin Han, Eric Duoss, Alexandra Golobic, Joshua Kuntz and Christopher Spadaccini were able to create the graphene aerogel by combining the graphene oxide (GO) inks with an aqueous GO suspension and silica filler to form a homogenous, highly viscous ink.  Once these inks have been formed, they are then loaded into a syringe barrel and extruded through a micronozzle into the predetermined 3D structures.  

“Adapting the 3D printing technique to aerogels makes it possible to fabricate countless complex aerogel architectures for applications such as mechanical properties and compressibility, which has never been achieved before, ” added engineer and researcher Cheng Zhu.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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