Creating Exceptional Graphene Aerogel in Space

Graphene aerogel is a lightweight material that is both thermally insulating and electrically conductive, making it suitable for various applications. Researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley are using the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory to produce higher-quality graphene aerogel than can be achieved on Earth.

The Crew-6 astronauts on the space station recently completed work on the team’s investigation, which was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The results of this research could provide new insights into the synthesis of graphene aerogel and lead to the development of novel material products.

© ISS National Laboratory

Jessica Frick, a research engineer at Stanford, explained that the microgravity environment of the space station allows for a completely new area of material science to be explored. Frick is part of Stanford’s Extreme Environment Microsystems Laboratory (XLab), which focuses on creating electronics that can withstand extreme environments like space. Frick and her team are collaborating with researchers from UC Berkeley to better understand the nature of graphene aerogel and how microgravity affects its properties.

The investigation, which involves the first step of graphene aerogel synthesis in microgravity, was launched on Northrop Grumman’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services mission. The process of producing graphene aerogel involves combining graphene oxide flakes in an aqueous solution, heating the solution to form graphene hydrogel, and then removing the liquid to leave behind graphene aerogel. The samples will be examined back on Earth to compare their properties with terrestrially produced graphene aerogel.

The researchers believe that producing graphene hydrogel in space will result in higher-quality aerogel compared to what can be produced on Earth. Gravity on Earth can cause uneven distribution of graphene flakes, leading to cracks in the hydrogel and potentially affecting the quality of the aerogel. By producing graphene hydrogel in microgravity, the team hopes to see a reduction in sedimentation effects and ultimately produce higher-quality aerogel.

Graphene aerogels have many remarkable qualities that make them suitable for various applications. They are extremely porous, making them ideal for filtration purposes. Additionally, their electrical conductivity makes them promising for energy storage in batteries and supercapacitors. Graphene aerogels also have thermal insulating properties, making them suitable for heat shield technology and aerospace applications. They can even be used as chemical sensors or for absorbing certain chemical constituents, which is beneficial for applications like oil spill cleanup.

Overall, this research conducted on the ISS could pave the way for advancements in graphene aerogel synthesis and its applications in various industries.