• Menu

Not just sci-fi: Aerographene

Mar 30 2023

Nathalie Béchet

A piece of aerographene, resting lightly on a pink tulip's petals against a gradient sunset-coloured background.



What in the name of tech is aerographene?

Imagine a material lighter than air, but stronger than steel.

In 2013, Chinese scientists developed the world’s lightest material … and I bet you’ve never heard of it. “Aerographene” is a portmanteau combining the words for the two elements it is made of: aerogel, an ultralight highly porous material 99 percent composed of air; and graphene, a two-dimensional carbon nanomaterial. 

There exist various types of aerogel. The most common is made of silica, which once held the world record for the least dense solid (1,000 g/m3). In 2011, nickel aerogel clocked 900 g/m3. But aerographene stole the limelight at 160 g/m3, making it the new Guinness World Record-holder

Aerographene is about 6 times lighter than air. It can perch, without trouble, on a single flower petal. 


It would … If all its tiny cavities weren't filled with the surrounding air. If you could suck the air out of aerographene, the vacuum structure would indeed float; generally speaking, though, it doesn’t.

But its porousness is what makes this material so precious. It can absorb organic liquids up to 657 times its own weight, which explains why scientists consider it an ideal candidate for cleaning up oil spills. But aerographene remains very costly—not only compared to other sorbents for oil spills, but within most all of its potential fields of application.


The material will be widely available when bulk production can be facilitated and justified. Graphene’s price keeps plummeting, but its complex manufacturing yields too little for most businesses to consider it a viable investment. The same goes for aerogels, which are expensive and thus produced in small batches

Still, given what aerographene has to offer, it won’t be long before it populates our homes—for example, in superfast charging batteries, water purificators, and laser light bulbs. Aerographene is shockingly flexible and “can fully recover without fracture even after 90 percent compression”. It is temperature-invariant, from -190°C to 300°C. Here’s the cherry on top: It is hydrophobic and conductive

Graphene aerogel could thus serve for all sorts of waterproof and thermal insulated equipment (ex. clothing, electronics, combat suits or spacesuits), enable flexible electronic devices, and absorb organic pollutants (water purification, air filtering). It probably also grants wishes and cooks. (Okay, maybe not.)

Here's the gamechanger: These days, it can be 3D printed—meaning aerographene will impact many more industries as it facilitates further experimentation. In a 10- to 15-year timeframe, expect this technology to exit the universe of “sci-fi.”

In "Not just sci-fi," Nathalie Béchet breaks down the research reality and market potential of technologies that capture our imagination. Check out the previous piece on claytronics.

The future in your inbox.

Illustration by Debarpan Das.

Nathalie Béchet

Digital anthropology researcher

Nathalie Béchet is a digital anthropology researcher at L’Atelier BNP Paribas, where she uses hybrid research methodologies to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis on socio-cultural changes implied by digital shifts. She holds master's degrees in anthropology and data science. Her work focuses on online activism, disinformation, the future of ethical algorithms, how traditional bodies adapt to technology, and social media's impact on selfhood.

About L'Atelier

We are an interdisciplinary team of economists, journalists, scientists and researchers interested in emerging technology related cultural phenomena and change.

Learn more

Sign up for the latest news and insights

Your e-mail address is used to send you newsletters and marketing information on L’Atelier. You can unsubscribe at any time by using the unsubscribe link in our emails. More information about the management of your personal data and your rights can be found in our Data Protection Notice.