Ultra Light Amphiphilic and Resilient Nanocellulose Aerogels and Foams

Aerogels are ultra-light porous materials that are uniquely desirable for a wide variety of applications including insulation, packaging, filtration, ion diffusion and drug delivery. However, commonly used processes such as supercritical drying of silica aerogels, or freezing and freeze-drying of natural and synthetic polymer-based aerogels consume immense energy. Researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed a facile and more energy efficient process to produce ultra-light nanocellulose aerogels with improved mechanical strength and hydrophobicity. This process enables drying under ambient conditions, and therefore does not require any high vacuum, freeze drying or heating steps. This process is not only more energy efficient and economic, but also feasible for scaling up. Chemical crosslinking results in aerogels that have an even higher specific surface area, dry compressive strength, and tunable hydrophobicity. Unlike hydrophilic silicon aerogels or hydropholic carbon nanotube or graphene based aerogels, these nanocellulose based aerogels are amphiphilic super-absorbents and tunable to become hydrophobic super-absorbents. These nanocellulose based aerogels are derived from sustainably sourced feedstock, i.e., waste streams of agriculture and food and beverage processing:the process turns under-utilized byproducts into high value added products and helps to reduce environmental impact of our food production system. Researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed an energy efficient method of producing ultra-light aerogels with excellent dry compressive strength and tunable hydrophobicity by ambient drying of nanocellulose wet gels.

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