Researchers turn plastic bottles into versatile aerogel

National University of Singapore researchers have made an ultralight and multifunctional aerogel from waste plastic bottles.


NSFW    SINGAPORE — Researchers from the National University of Singapore have found a way to convert plastic bottles into an ultralight super material with various applications.

Eco-Business reports that the process involves plastic bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate or PET. These are first shredded into fibers and combined with several chemicals, including hydrochloric acid and polyvinyl acetate.

The solution is put in a sonicator where it is mixed using sound energy, then freeze-dried to produce an aerogel that is soft, durable, and flexible. One plastic bottle can produce an A4 sheet of aerogel.

According to a press release from the National University of Singapore, the aerogel is versatile, and can serve unique functions depending on the surface treatments. When coated with an amine group, it can be used in pollution masks to absorb dust particles and carbon dioxide.

It can absorb large amounts of oil when incorporated with various methyl groups, and withstand temperatures of up to 620 degrees Celsius when coated with fire retardant chemicals.

Researchers have listed several practical uses for the aerogels, like cleaning oil spills, building insulation, or as a lightweight thermal lining for firefighter coats.

The fabrication process is also quicker and more cost-effective than conventional methods, and easily scalable for mass production. Because of this, the team is hopeful that the technology can help decrease the damage brought about by widespread plastic pollution.
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