Researchers at the National University of Singapore have created a way to convert plastic bottle waste into an ultralight aerogel material that has multiple potential applications.
Plastic bottles are typically made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and PET is the most recycled plastic in the world. The Singapore group has developed PET aerogels that are soft, flexible, durable, extremely light, and easy to handle. The materials have superior thermal insulation and absorption properties. These properties make them attractive for a variety of applications such as heat and sound insulation in buildings, oil spill cleaning, as a lightweight lining for firefighter coats, and for carbon dioxide absorption masks that could be used during rescue operations.
The research team took two years to develop the technology to produce the PET aerogels. The results were published in August.
These new materials are very versatile. By giving them different surface treatments, they can be customized for different applications. When they are incorporated with various methyl groups, they are capable of absorbing large amounts of oil very quickly, up to seven times better than existing oil spill cleaning materials.
The fire safety applications are very promising. When coated with fire retardant chemicals, the PET aerogels demonstrate superior thermal resistance and stability and can withstand temperatures up to 620 degrees Celsius – much higher than the thermal lining used in conventional firefighter coats but at only one-tenth the weight.
Plastic bottle waste is one of the most significant contributors to the global plastic threat to the environment. This simple, cost-effective and green method to convert plastic bottle waste into extremely useful PET aerogels has tremendous promise.
Photo, posted July 9, 2011, courtesy of Flickr.