Bio tissues, plastic, metal, food all are great 3D printing materials. But is this all we can print with? What if we take the lightest of the structures and print it using the modern 3D printer? As a result we can get a superlight, strong and flexible object that can be successfully used in aerospace industry as well as in many others.
The researchers from SUNY Buffalo and Kansas State University have worked out the method of 3D printing graphene aerogel. Aerogels are among the world’s lightest materials, while the graphene aerogel is considered to be the lightest among them. There was held an experiment when a large block of graphene aerogel was put on the little cotton piece and it hadn’t changed the shape of cotton at all.
Aerogel is actually a gel where the liquid is replaced by air. It has some unique properties like high compressibility and conductivity. But the structure that gives aerogel such valuable features doesn’t let it be used as a material for 3D printing.
The problem of using aerogel in 3D printing was resolved by adding polymer in the printing structure. Being printed the polymer was removed from the object by chemical methods. But unfortunately this solution doesn’t work for graphene aerogel because it has a too delicate structure.
The scientists from SUNY Buffalo and Kansas State University have found a way to solve this problem. They mixed graphene oxide — graphene with extra oxygen atoms and water and deposited layers on a surface at -25°C. The ice supported the structure and didn’t let it to be destroyed. The process was over; the ice was removed from the object using liquid nitrogen in a “freeze drying” technique. Being heated the extra oxygen atoms were removed too as to get a pure graphene in the aerogel.
Thus, the researchers are able to get the object of a definite shape they want with 3D printer. And also they can use in its manufacturing the material that is a thousand times less dense than water.As for weigh, the lightest aerogel is about 0.16 kg per cubic meter in comparison to 1,000 kg per cubic meter for water. This property creates a great opportunity for producing a range of innovative products ranging from extremely efficient oil absorbents to “invisibility” cloaks.