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Carbon Aerogel Supersponge Could Soak Up Oil Spills

Lightest ever carbon aerogel shows remarkable absorption capablities for cleaning up oil spills and other environmental remediation

2 min read
Carbon Aerogel Supersponge Could Soak Up Oil Spills
Imaginechina/AP Photo

Researchers in China claim to have produced the world’s lightest aerogel. The feather-like aerogel is synthesized from a combination of carbon nanotubes and graphene and weighs in at 0.16 milligrams per cubic centimeter, a sixth that of air.

Carbon nanotubes have been applied to the production of aerogels previously. However, instead of enabling an “invisibility cloak” as in previous research, the researchers at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China believe this aerogel, which they have dubbed “carbon aerogel," could be used as an environmental remediation tool for cleaning up oil spills.

While aerogels have long been proposed as a solution to cleaning up oil spills, actual commercial offerings of any nanotech-based method have been few and far between.

But it’s hard to dismiss the incredible capability of this latest aerogel to absorb organic solvents. Whereas current commercial oil-absorbent products are capable of soaking up to 10 times their own weight, this carbon aerogel is reported to be capable of absorbing 900 times its own weight. This translates into 1 gram of carbon aerogel absorbing 68.8 grams of organics per second, according to the researchers.

"Carbon aerogel is expected to play an important role in pollution control such as oil spill control, water purification and even air purification," said Professor Professor Gao Chao, one of the lead researchers in the project, in a press release.

The researchers have reported the development of their carbon aerogel in the journal Advanced Materials ("Multifunctional, Ultra-Flyweight, Synergistically Assembled Carbon Aerogels").

The Chinese scientists were able to reduce the weight of their aerogel to previous carbon-nanotube versions by using freeze-dried solutions to create the carbon aerogel. This eliminated any moisture that may have been on the carbon nanotubes and graphene, but still managed to maintain the characteristics that were needed for creating the aerogel.

In addition to reducing the weight of the aerogel, the freeze-dried approach lends itself more readily to mass production, according to Gao.

Despite improved avenues to mass production and significantly improved absorption capabilities, it’s easy to be skeptical about whether this technology will be available the next time there’s a catastrophic oil spill. Let’s hope commercialization efforts start sooner rather than later.

Photo:  Imaginechina/AP Photo

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The First Million-Transistor Chip: the Engineers’ Story

Intel’s i860 RISC chip was a graphics powerhouse

21 min read
Twenty people crowd into a cubicle, the man in the center seated holding a silicon wafer full of chips

Intel's million-transistor chip development team

In San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1989, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., startled the world of high technology by presenting the first ever 1-million-transistor microprocessor, which was also the company’s first such chip to use a reduced instruction set.

The number of transistors alone marks a huge leap upward: Intel’s previous microprocessor, the 80386, has only 275,000 of them. But this long-deferred move into the booming market in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) was more of a shock, in part because it broke with Intel’s tradition of compatibility with earlier processors—and not least because after three well-guarded years in development the chip came as a complete surprise. Now designated the i860, it entered development in 1986 about the same time as the 80486, the yet-to-be-introduced successor to Intel’s highly regarded 80286 and 80386. The two chips have about the same area and use the same 1-micrometer CMOS technology then under development at the company’s systems production and manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore. But with the i860, then code-named the N10, the company planned a revolution.

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