3D Nanocarbon Assemblies as Templates for the Controlled Formation of Functional Gold and Copper Aerogels

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


Context of research
The project is focused on the synthesis and characterisation of gold and copper aerogels. Aerogels are nanostructured, low-density 3D networks, often of defined monolithic shape, with very large accessible porosities and internal surface areas. Based on these properties, aerogels are currently investigated for a wide range of applications in energy, environmental remediation, and catalysis.

This project will be conducted in close collaboration with the UK defence company AWE, who have a long-standing interest in the development of low-density metallic foam materials for their research activities in plasma physics and inertial fusion. These applications require materials with certain key material requirements including, controlled morphologies, uniform surface finish, no pores greater than a set limit, no density variations or inclusions within the material and the ability to machine the material. This project will explore new routes to synthesis and characterise such metallic aerogels.

Aims and objectives
The main objective is to develop new approaches to produce copper and gold aerogels with highly uniform density, highly uniform macropore morphology and well-defined surface chemistry, not currently available through existing technologies. Fundamental properties of the produced metal aerogels will be investigated utilising state-of-the-art equipment at the University of Leeds.

Research plan
The proposed project will explore various approaches (e.g. emulsion-templating, critical point drying of high concentration solutions etc) to produce carbon-nanotube and graphene aerogels with well-controlled density and porosity. These nanocarbon aerogels will be utilised as hard templates to produce gold and copper aerogels through the chemical modification of the carbon frameworks with metal-organic precursors or pre-formed metal nanoparticles, followed by thermal conversion. Fundamental properties of the produced metal aerogels (microstructure, porosity, mechanical, electrical, thermal) will be investigated utilising state-of-of the-art equipment at the University of Leeds. Application-relevant structure-property relationships of the aerogel materials will be analysed.

Potential applications and benefits
In the context of AWE's research activities in plasma physics, the company has an on going demand to develop and produce metallic aerogels with high specifications, not accessible through current, existing fabrication methods. AWE will be active members of the project and will provide technical guidelines on desired aerogel target properties. The availability of aerogels with the desired specifications will not only address a key issue in context of inertial fusion studies, as pursued by AWE, but will also allow for advanced investigations of fundamental aerogel structure-property relationships important in context of other potential aerogel applications, e.g. in energy storage, heterogeneous catalysis, adsorption and trace sensing.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1799924 Studentship EP/N509681/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 Jamie Mannering
Description There have been many developments through this project. Discovering modified and improved fabrication processes towards both nanocarbon 3D porous structures (shear mixed emulsion templated multi and double wall carbon nanotubes) and metallic copper aerogels (closed cell and open cell aerogels) providing a great deal of insight into the controlled growth of 3D porous structures for several different applications. Developments have been made in novel decorative approaches towards functional nanocarbon aerogels and probing the activity of supported nanoparticles through industry-relevant heterogeneous catalytic reactions.
Exploitation Route Unclear currently as the project is still ongoing with a lot of potential to head into various directions.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Education,Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Security and Diplomacy