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Mechanically Strong, Scalable, Mesoporous Xerogels of Nanocellulose Featuring Light Permeability, Thermal Insulation, and Flame Self-Extinction

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posted on 06.01.2021, 19:06 by Wataru Sakuma, Shunsuke Yamasaki, Shuji Fujisawa, Takashi Kodama, Junichiro Shiomi, Kazuyoshi Kanamori, Tsuguyuki Saito
Scalability is a common challenge in the structuring of nanoscale particle dispersions, particularly in the drying of these dispersions for producing functional, porous structures such as aerogels. Aerogel production relies on supercritical drying, which exhibits poor scalability. A solution to this scalability limitation is the use of evaporative drying under ambient pressure. However, the evaporative drying of wet gels comprising nanoscale particles is accompanied by a strong capillary force. Therefore, it is challenging to produce evaporative-dried gels or “xerogels” that possess the specific structural profiles of aerogels such as mesoscale pores, high porosity, and high specific surface area (SSA). Herein, we demonstrate a structure of mesoporous xerogels with high porosity (∼80%) and high SSA (>400 m2 g–1) achieved by exploiting cellulose nanofibers (CNFs) as the building blocks with tunable interparticle interactions. CNFs are sustainable, wood-derived materials with high strength. In this study, the few-nanometer-wide CNFs bearing carboxy groups were structured into a stable network via ionic inter-CNF interaction. The outline of the resulting xerogels was then tailored into a regular, millimeter-thick, board-like structure. Several characterization techniques highlighted the multifunctionality of the CNF xerogels combining outstanding strength (compression E = 170 MPa, σ = 10 MPa; tension E = 290 MPa, σ = 8 MPa), moderate light permeability, thermal insulation (0.06–0.07 W m–1 K–1), and flame self-extinction. As a potential application of the xerogels, daylighting yet insulating, load-bearing wall members can be thus proposed.