Materials; the very core of any tangible entity, and therefore the most pivotal part within the physical manifestation of any architectural space, without which; the planning just remains an idea on paper or the laptop for that matter. Material innovations are an intriguing component of Architectural Design, Research, and Development. From the traditional Mesopotamian Ziggurats to the neo-futuristic skyscrapers; the way material usage and development have evolved is phenomenal; and with the growing technological advancements, one can only imagine what is going to become the paradigm or the new normal of materials, which can be utilized in the longer term. Will we continue with the high-rise RCC, Steel, and Glass hybrid; or bring back a hybrid that mixes the vernacular and integrates it with the prevailing technological applications. Only time can tell.

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Alternative Materials: Aerographite - Sheet1
Molecular Intricacy_© Inventor/Research Team from Hamburg University of Technology and the University Kiel / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerographite#/media/File:TUHH_CAU_newexampleAerographite_Netwok.png

Among various new engineered material typologies, one which is gaining prominent recognition is Aerographite. An organically engineered material with strong covalent bonds between carbon atoms. This material comes under an equivalent group as a couple of other upcoming Organic Construction materials like Graphene, Carbyne, and Aero graphene.

An introduction explaining the material

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Developed by material scientists from Kiel University and therefore the Hamburg University of Technology, Aerographite has been deemed because of the world’s lightest material. One millilitre of this material weighs just 0.2 milligrams, 4 times lighter than the previous record-holder, 5,000 times less dense than water, and 6 times lighter than air.

One of the prominent advantages of the fabric Aerographite is its ability to form porous Carbon Nanotubes, allowing scientists to scale back the load of the fabric by reducing density without compromise in strength. The fabric also can absorb high proportions of sunshine rays, thereby leading to a particularly black appearance. the fabric can also withstand tons of vibration and is additionally superhydrophobic, thereby inducing a further useful property of being waterproof.

Alternative Materials: Aerographite - Sheet2
Physical Compound in Reality_©Nix / https://watchers.news/2012/08/21/aerographite-the-lightest-material-in-the-world-5000-times-less-dense-than-water-and-six-times-lighter-than-air/

The mesh of carbon tubes is around 15nm in diameter, interwoven at the Micro-scale and Nano-scale levels. Few of its main tangible properties include; electrical conductivity, ductility, non-transparency, and withstanding high compression and tensile loads. Aerographite also has high strength but with a bendable trait, because it is often compressed then be pulled back to its normal form with no damage. the strain only makes the fabric stronger and gains extra strength and conductivity within the process, and comes back with no damage to its structure — or it can carry up to 40,000 times its weight. Boasting a density of just 180 grams per kiloliter, the fabric is about 75 times lighter than Styrofoam. The material is also inherently superhydrophobic, a trait that aerogels only gain after post-production chemical treatment.

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Components

The material’s predominant material and its least occupying component may be a network of interlinked, thin-walled carbon microtubes, which comprise 0.01% of the material; the remainder is air, thereby its density of 0.18 mg/cm3. The carbon tubes aren’t made up of layers of graphene-like carbon nanotubes but are more almost like vitreous carbon. The thick, porous, self-supporting walls of the carbon tubes are 15 nm thick, making Aerographite a carbon nanomaterial, as compared, 1 kg of the fabric would occupy a volume roughly like that of a little car. Apart from its rarity, it’s the opposite properties of Aerographite that make it so interesting. albeit it’s 99.99% air, it’s completely optically opaque.

Method of production

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Alternative Materials: Aerographite - Sheet3
Scientific Diagram of the assembly method of Aerographite_©https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0266353816303475

The material is produced employing a specifically developed chemical vapour deposition (CVD) process. flowers of zinc (ZnO) tetrapod nanocrystals are used as sacrificial templates (much just like the formwork on Reinforced Cement Concrete) on which to grow the Aerographite network. CVD is employed to coat the ZnO crystals with carbon. The framework is later injected with hydrogen gas, which is then wont to reduce the template crystals, causing them to collapse and leaving the outer skeleton of the carbon network intact, leading to the fabric Aerographite.

Professor Rainer Adelung; Kiel University described the process by alluding to Aerographite as an ivy-web, that wraps itself around a tree of Zinc Oxide crystals. Then deduct the tree”. The “trees” during this case being the flowers of zinc crystals.

Embodied Energy,

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Aerographite is electrically conductive, and therefore the electrodes made up of the fabric are often utilized in a double-layer capacitor with an influence capacity of 1.25 Wh/kg. the fabric is additionally structurally resilient. Aerographite displays a high level of lastingness at 160-kilo Pascals (when its density is 8.5 mg / cm3), along with its ability to withstand compression. The material consists of a low Poisson ratio as well; allowing it to completely recover its shape after 95% compression.

Microscopic view at 0.002mm_©https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/133056-aerographite-six-times-lighter-than-air-conductive-and-super-strong

Examples of structures of buildings where the material has been used or could be used

Since the material’s inception in the year 2012; its predominant and ideal use as of yet is that in making lighter batteries, just as carbon is used to filter water the material can excel at both air and water purification systems, aviation materials due to its ability to able to conduct electricity and withstand a lot of vibration, satellites, wearable computing, Electric cars and bikes, mobile devices, as well as models of biological scaffolds for medical applications. The material is also superhydrophobic thereby, making all its potential components waterproof. The characteristics of this material are possible due to its 3D network; highly porous, and it creates long-lasting, light, and resistant molecular scaffolds, due to the carbon nanotubes interweaved with each other that makeup Aerographite.

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Due to the material’s ability to be produced in a variety of shapes, its lightness, and relatively large surface area; Aerographite can potentially be used on the electrodes of lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors to reduce its weight. This material can be coated with Non-conductive objects, such as plastics, to make them conductive without gaining weight. water and air filtration. Scientists also state that by changing the process, the temperature of the oven, and the pace at which the hydrogen is added; Aerographite can be modified, and tailored for each specific use-case.

When it comes to Aerographite, a lot is yet to be uncovered about this material, and its potential possibility of use is still unknown. With time, Aerographite can be the material of the future; wherein interplanetary space crafts and potential habitats on Mars and Moon can greatly benefit from this material. Along with its structural integrity and other physical properties, Aerographite will be long-sustainable as it is far less heavy in comparison to the potential volumes that it can occupy. With time, and further scientific research; maybe this material will be far more consequential to futuristic architecture than we can foresee at this point.

References

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BLAINE BROWNELL (2012). Scientists Produce the Lightest Solid Material. [online]. (Last updated 19 July 2012). Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/technology/scientists-produce-the-lightest-solid-material_o [Accessed 26 July 2021].

Sebastian Anthony (2012). Aerographite: 6 times lighter than air, conductive, and super-strong. [online]. (Last updated 19 July 2012). Available at: https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/133056-aerographite-six-times-lighter-than-air-conductive-and-super-strong [Accessed 27 July 2021].

Lucy Wang (2017). Six of the lightest and strongest materials on Earth. [online]. (Last updated 18 March 2017). Available at: https://inhabitat.com/6-of-the-lightest-and-strongest-materials-on-earth/ [Accessed 28 July 2021].

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Steven (2016). Seven Futuristic Materials that will Change Construction. [online]. (Last updated 17 May 2016). Available at: https://www.planswift.com/blog/7futuristicmaterialsthatwillchangeconstruction/ [Accessed 29 July 2021].

Mynewlab (2020). Seven Materials that Are Set to Change the Building Industry. [online]. (Last updated 17 September 2020). Available at: https://www.mynewlab.com/blog/materials-future-building-industry/ [Accessed 30 July 2021].

Laurie Winkless (2012). Aerographite. [online]. (Last updated 25 July 2012). Available at: https://www.materialstoday.com/carbon/comment/aerographite/#:~:text=0.01%25%20of%20the%20material%20consists,more%20similar%20to%20vitreous%20carbon. [Accessed 1 August 2021].

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Author

A final year architecture student, currently studying in SVKM-NMIMS Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai, he has allied interests towards architectural photography and writing. Having a penchant for films and philosophy as well, he is of the belief that architecture and design have the ability to capture the most pivotal moments in life itself.

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