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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Super Sponge

Air Date: Week of

A new aerogel acts like a super sponge and can soak up chemicals. Living on Earth’s Amy Fish reports.



FISH: For one group of scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, it’s clean up time.


FISH: The Argonne researchers unexpectedly discovered the formula for a new, highly absorbent material that acts like a super sponge. The new substance is a type of aerogel, a strong, lightweight material that feels like Styrofoam.

Microscopic pores in the aerogel create an enormous surface area. A single cubic centimeter—less than a thimbleful—of the Argonne gel could cover an entire football field. It’s this huge surface area that makes the super porous gel such a powerful sponge.

The new material is also versatile. By adjusting the ingredients and the size of the pores, scientists can fine-tune the aerogel to soak up specific chemicals. In one experiment, the gel absorbed 99.99 percent of toxic mercury in a container of contaminated water.

And one day, another version could remove one of the biggest obstacles to developing hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen gas contains impurities, such as carbon monoxide, which damage some fuel cells. Researchers believe an altered form of the gel could filter out the impurities and make fuel cells far more efficient.

With the help of the new Argonne aerogel, we could be cleaning our way to a greener future.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Amy Fish.



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