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World’s first PET aerogel is made from recycled bottles

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) developed what they say is the world’s first PET aerogel, made from recycled plastic bottles.

Aerogels are porous ultralight materials derived from a gel, in which the liquid component has been replaced by gas. They can be used for a multitude of applications.

Plastic bottles are commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate, better known as PET, one of the most common plastics in the world. The NUS team is the first to turn PET into an aerogel. The material is soft, flexible, durable, extremely light and easy to handle. It also has a very good thermal insulation and strong absorbing capacity.

To make the aerogel, the researchers developed what they call a “simple, cost-effective and green” method to convert plastic bottle waste into PET aerogels. One plastic bottle results in an A4-size sheet of aerogel. According to the engineers, the fabrication technology is easily scalable for mass production.

The team suggests that the aerogel can be used for a wide range of applications, including heat and sound insulation in buildings and oil spill cleaning. Based on experiments, the aerogel performs up to seven times better than existing commercial sorbents when it comes to cleaning up oil.

Additionally, the NUS team suggests it can serve as lightweight lining for firefighter coats, though the aerogel ahs to be coated with fire-retardant chemicals. The material can withstand temperatures of up to 620 degrees Celsius, which is seven times higher than he thermal lining used conventional firefighter coats, but weighs only a tenth as much.

Another suggestion for a product is carbon dioxide absorption masks. When coated with an amine group, the PET aerogel can quickly absorb CO2 from the environment. Its absorption is comparable to materials used in gas masks. The team embedded a thin later of the aerogel in a commercial fine particle mask to create a prototype mask that can absorb both dust and particles and carbon dioxide efficiently.

The team has filed a patent for their technology and will continue to enhance the performance and explore applications.

Photos: NUS

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