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Earth Technology

Scientists Turn Paper Waste Into Aerogel (inhabitat.com) 54

Kristine Lofgren writes: A team of scientists have successfully turned paper waste into aerogel. Aerogels are used in insulation, and they are usually made out of polymers and silica. But a research team at the National University of Singapore managed to make the highly sought-after product using recycled paper, which could have huge implications not only for the rate at which we are filling up our landfills, but also for the amount of chemicals that we are producing and releasing into the environment.
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Scientists Turn Paper Waste Into Aerogel

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  • by blogagog ( 1223986 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @11:12PM (#51476095)
    It seems like it would be difficult to make a mostly paper product flame retardant.
    • It seems like it would be difficult to make a mostly paper product flame retardant.

      Well sure, but for those of you /. posters who routinely work Mission Impossible, the very difficult is rather mundane.

    • Re:fire! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Fly Swatter ( 30498 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @11:37PM (#51476223) Homepage

      Recycled paper is already used to make cellulose insulation, and has been for many years. By necessity it is full of flame retardants. It is nothing new.

      The actual article only mentions insulation in passing, in the picture it looks more like a standard foam product. Nothing like cellulose insulation. They hope to initially use it for cleaning up oil spills.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Aerogel is of course nothing at all like loose-fill cellulose insulation. But no, it should not pose a fire risk either. Depending on the type, aerogels are generally considered either fire retardant or non-flammable; even if they're made of something that "burns" on a macroscopic level, there's so little "something" there to burn that the flame barrier properties that they provide generally well outweighs the heat output of their own combustion.

        • I would have thought it evplosive, like coal or corn dust, well distributed thru a volume of air.

          • Re:fire! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday February 10, 2016 @10:56AM (#51478597)

            I would have thought similarly, but Wikipedia says otherwise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerogel). Perhaps a flame-front can't advance fast enough through a rigid structure?

            Heat cannot spread through aerogels quickly, nor can the expanding hot air front spread further into the fuel, so I'm guessing only the outermost surface can be thermally catalyzed, and thanks to their incredibly low density there's not going to be a lot of other fuel within range of a burning molecule to absorb the energy before convection carries it away from the surface.

    • It seems like it would be difficult to make a mostly paper product flame retardant.

      Actually it is quite easy. Finely shredded paper is commonly used as a high-R value blown-in insulation for attics and wall cavities. The paper is treated with boric acid which acts as a flame retardant.

    • Aerogel is solid smoke, or solid gas, per definition. Or at the least thats the wikipedia simplified explanation.
      So paper contains chemicals that can be used to make one form of solid smoke.
      Now here is the important thing about Aerogel: All forms of it has different properties, outside of being extremely insulating, and extremely non dense(light), and usually quite hard. Further properties depend on what its made from.
      Some are super fragile, some can bend, etc.

      • Well, that's more of a common nickname based on appearance than a definition, there's not really anything else smokelike about them except density. Calling someone a carrot-top doesn't make them a vegetable.

    • Re:fire! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Tuesday February 09, 2016 @11:50PM (#51476281)

      Nope, very easy in fact. Shredded paper is one of the best roof insulations you can get and it is treated with boric acid to make it fire retardant. Here is a link to someone hitting Cool or Cosy (a brand name version of shredded paper insulation) with a blow torch.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

      • by Creepy ( 93888 )

        The 1960s era insulation in my attic is exactly that - shredded newspaper treated with fire retardant. The main problem with it is that it tends to settle more than fiberglass and apparently doesn't insulate as well after it settles. Mine had dropped a good 6" (15cm) when I had additional fiberglass insulation blown in.

    • Boron, moron.
    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      Try and light a matchbox.

  • A new way to deal with your rejected papers.

  • by sims 2 ( 994794 ) on Wednesday February 10, 2016 @12:32AM (#51476441)

    What I want to know is if it will be cheaper as right now even a small sample of areogel costs a small fortune.

    Its supposed to be one of the very best insulation materials but its always been extremely cost prohibitive to insulate your house with it.

    • by whit3 ( 318913 )

      What I want to know is if it will be cheaper as right now even a small sample of areogel costs a small fortune. Its supposed to be one of the very best insulation materials but its ...cost prohibitive to insulate your house with it.

      It should be less expensive than silica aerogel (which is made of quartz, and requires elaborate drying in an autoclave-like pressure cooker). That's because freeze-drying is a cheap way to remove liquid from the voids (and you NEED LOTS OF VOIDS).

      It's unclear, however,

  • by troon ( 724114 ) on Wednesday February 10, 2016 @03:49AM (#51477025)

    could have huge implications not only for the rate at which we are filling up our landfills

    Wouldn't aerogel fill our landfills much faster than in its original, denser form?

  • Here's a much more detailed article:

    http://news.nus.edu.sg/press-r... [nus.edu.sg]

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