Michele Meo with the new lightweight aerogel suspended in a honeycomb structure. Photo: University of Bath.
Michele Meo with the new lightweight aerogel suspended in a honeycomb structure. Photo: University of Bath.

An incredibly light new material that can reduce aircraft engine noise and improve passenger comfort has been developed by researchers at the University of Bath in the UK.

The graphene oxide-polyvinyl alcohol aerogel weighs just 2.1kg per cubic meter, making it the lightest sound insulation material ever manufactured. It could be used as insulation within aircraft engines to lessen noise by up to 16 decibels – reducing the 105-decibel roar of a jet engine taking off to a sound closer to that of a hair-dryer.

The aerogel's meringue-like structure makes it extremely light, meaning it could act as an insulator within aircraft engine nacelles without increasing their overall weight. The material is currently being further optimized by the research team to provide improved heat dissipation, thereby enhancing fuel efficiency and safety.

The researchers from Bath's Materials and Structures Centre (MAST), led by Michele Mao, report their method for manufacturing the aerogel in a paper in Scientific Reports.

"This is clearly a very exciting material that could be applied in a number of ways – initially in aerospace but potentially in many other fields such as automotive and marine transport, as well as in building and construction," said Meo.

"We managed to produce such an extremely low density by using a liquid combination of graphene oxide and a polymer, which are formed with whipped air bubbles and freeze-casted. On a very basic level, the technique can be compared with whipping egg whites to create meringues – it's solid but contains a lot of air, so there is no weight or efficiency penalty to achieve big improvements in comfort and noise."

Although the team's initial focus is in working with partners in aerospace to test the material as a sound insulator in aeroplane engines, they say it could also be used to create panels in helicopters or car engines. They estimate that the aerogel could be in use within 18 months.

This story is adapted from material from the University of Bath, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.