Nanomaterials that are emerging out of cutting edge nanotechnology research are a key component for an energy revolution. Carbon-based nanomaterials are ushering in the "new carbon age" with carbon nanotubes, nanoporous carbons, and graphene nanosheets that will prove necessary to provide sustainable energy applications that lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.
Carbon aerogels (CAs) are nanoporous carbons that comprise a particularly significant class of carbon nanomaterials for a variety of sustainable energy applications. CAs are specifically promising in that they possess a tunable three-dimensional hierarchical morphology with ultrafine cell size and an electrically conductive framework. They are available as macroscopic, centimeter-sized monolithic materials.
LLNL is an international leader in breakthrough carbon aerogel research. Carbon aerogels hold great technological promise for a variety of sustainable energy applications including hydrogen and electrical energy storage, desalination, and electrocatalysis.
Aerogels in general constitute a special class of open-cell foams that exhibit such fascinating properties as low mass density, continuous porosity, and high surface area. The CA microstructure typically consists of three-dimensional networks of interconnected nanometer-sized primary particles. Sol-gel methods are used to prepare the materials where the liquid in the gel is removed, leaving the solid matrix intact. In essence, the liquid in the gel is replaced with a gas. This transforms the organic aerogel precursor into a porous carbon network comprised of both amorphous and microcrystalline regions. These materials are mass producible.
As a result, CAs combine the properties of high surface area, electrical conductivity, chemical stability, and environmental compatibility in one material. CAs are specifically promising in that they possess a tunable three-dimensional hierarchical morphology, and that they are available as macroscopic monolithic materials. When doped or modified with other materials to tune their properties, CAs are specifically useful as: carbon nanotube–carbon aerogel (double-and single-walled carbon nanotubes); metal oxide–carbon aerogel or metal carbonitride–carbon aerogel; and as polymer composites of these materials.
US Patent 8,685,287.
Also see a scientific article in Energy Environ. Sci., Biener, et al., 2011, 4, 656.