Asia – The National University of Singapore (NUS) has discovered a means of converting paper waste into green cellulose aerogels that are non-toxic, ultralight, flexible, ‘extremely strong’ and also water repellent.
The new material is said to be suitable not only for packaging and heat insulation but also in helping to clean up oil spills.
The aerogels can absorb oil up to 90 times their dry weight and can recover over 99% of the crude oil absorbed, according to the research team at the NUS faculty of engineering.
‘Traditional aerogels are mainly made of silica, which is not environmentally friendly,’ says assistant professor Duong Hai Minh, who oversaw the research project. ‘’n contrast, cellulose is low-cost and makes up 75-85% of recycled paper. Our fabrication process uses 70% less energy, produces fewer polluting emissions and uses less dioxins in the chlorine bleaching process. It is also faster – the entire process only takes three days.’
The team is ‘very excited’ about potential uses of this new material, including various biomedical applications. Tests have showed that compressed cellulose aerogels can be used to plug life-threatening wounds by injecting them into the cavity left by, for example, a gunshot or a knife.
The researchers have filed a patent for its invention in the USA, China, India and South East Asia.