Do you want cheese and seaweed with your AeroClay? | The American Ceramic Society

Do you want cheese and seaweed with your AeroClay?

In this extreme closeup, the clay aerogel's "house of cards" structure is evident. The gaps between the layers of clay were created by freeze-drying the sample. Coating the aerogel's surfaces with a polymer will help retain its spongy shape. Credit: Suneel Bandi/Case Western Reserve University

Freeze drying causes gaps to form between the layers of clay. Credit: Suneel Bandi/Case Western Reserve University

The sustainability of a product often is found in applications not originally considered. A case in point is AeroClay, a product developed by Case Western Reserve University professor David Schiraldi.

AeroClay is a patented foamlike and environmentally friendly clay-based polymer. AeroClay materials feel and act like foam, without injection of gas bubbles or environmentally unfriendly CFCs.

The clay aerogels are produced in a wide variety of shapes using a freeze-drying technique. If the aerogel is later fired to 800ºC, it undergoes a chemical transformation. Depending on additives, the AeroClay can become a hard, lightweight ceramic, a bendable material, a superlightweight magnet, an electrical conductor, or a catalyst.

Schiraldi’s group recently combined clay, water and milk protein (casein) found in wastewater from the cheese-making process. The result was a high-temperature polymer that withstands temperatures to 300ºC. The new material has the potential to insulate pipes that carry high-temperature materials throughout refineries.

They also experimented with the seaweed protein alginate, but the casein resulted in a better product.

Schiraldi told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he’s formed a company, AeroClay Inc. to try to market new AeroClay products. One he mentioned is a light-weight cat litter.

“Grandma goes to the store and has to carry this 30- or 40-pound tub back,” Schiraldi told the newspaper. “What if you could get the same function, and instead of 30 or 40 [pounds], it was 3 or 4? Would you pay an extra dollar for that tub? A lot of people would.”