Aerogels from Environmental Wastes for Novel Engineering Applications

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Recycling environmental waste can avoid many hazardous environmental scenarios and save our resources. Our aerogel technology can recycle various environmental wastes to high-value engineering materials. Common paper, fabric and plastic wastes are selected to develop the lightest aerogel materials for novel applications such as oil-spill cleaning, heat and sound insulation, winter garment materials, packaging, CO2 filtering, personal care and medical products.

Using an cost-effective and green sol gel technique with no toxic solvents and cross-linkers, recycled fibres from the wastes are converted into ultralight porous, biodegradable and non-toxic aerogels. Our method uses 70% less energy and results in reduced polluting emissions into the air and water. It is also faster as the entire process takes only 8 hrs to 1 day. This is 20 times faster than current commercial processes. Thus we can significantly reduce manufacturing and equipment costs. The manufacturing cost of an A4-size aerogel sheet is approx. US$0.5-2.0, much cheaper than commercial Aspen aerogels for heat insulation or commercial sorbents for oil spill cleaning. The developed aerogels are highly compressible for the first time; hence storage and transportation costs are greatly reduced. The compressed aerogels can very quickly recover 97 % of their original size when placed in water. The used aerogels can be recycled so no waste is disposed to the environment.

The above highly compressible, cost-effective and biocompatible hybrid aerogel pellets can be easy integrated into a clinical syringe to be used as a haemorrhage control device. Each compressed aerogel pallet can expand in volume to 16 times its size in 4.5 seconds, 3 times faster than commercial haemorrhage devices, while retaining their structural integrity. The fast aerogel expansion also exerts high pressure to stop the wound bleeding within 5 seconds.

The aerogel surface can be functionalized effectively by the nanocoating method at low temperature for the above-mentioned applications. For example, the MTMS-coated aerogel can absorb oil 99 times of their dry weight and 4 times as effective as commercial oil sorbents. They can be reused several times and can be recovered by squeezing out over 99 % of oil absorbed. At the end of their useful life, the used aerogel can be safely ground into fine particles and discarded. This potential market has been estimated at US$143.5 billion. With amine group coating, the amine-coated aerogels can absorb large amounts of CO2 from air. Also with fire retardant coating, the aerogels can withstand an ambient temperature of 600-620 oC and prevent fire from spreading inside buildings. The potential market of thermal insulation is US$3.3 billion globally. Beside the heat and sound insulation of the buildings, we also developed successfully a lightweight thermal jacket using aerogels, to insulate water bottles, to maintain the temperature of ice slurry at -1oC for 4 hours. A thermal jacket consists of an aerogel layer embedded within common fabrics to provide effective heat insulation. The aerogel-insulated bottle offers better heat insulation performance than commercial FLOE bottles and is highly comparable to that of vacuum flasks, but at a fraction of the cost.

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  • ABOUT THE ENTRANT

  • Name:
    Hai Minh Duong
  • Type of entry:
    team
    Team members:
    Associate Professor Hai Minh Duong and Professor Nhan Phan-Thien, National University of Singapore ( NUS), Singapore
  • Profession:
    Educator
  • Number of times previously entering contest:
    never
  • Hai Minh belongs to these online communities:
    www.cnt-nus.com
  • Hai Minh is inspired by:
    I was inspired after being challenged by a janitor at the NUS on what could be done with waste paper I threw out. The idea of using environmental wastes has come in my mind from this conversation. Recycling environmental waste can avoid several scenarios of environmental hazard, and saving our resources, including the raw materials and energy usage. Paper waste, textile/fabric waste and plastic waste are abundant, and I have wanted to recycle them. So my inspired idea is "Using environmental wastes to solve environmental problems and converting them into high-value eco-aerogels for novel engineering applications." Our developed aerogel technology can solve current aerogel technology problems by our cost-effective methods without using any toxic solvent. The eco-aerogels can be used to make a varied range of products, such as thermal insulating materials, packaging, winter jackets, reusable oil absorption products, first-aid plugs for wounds, and personal care products.
  • Patent status:
    patented