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Meringue-like material can help reduce aircraft noise

Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a new material, inspired by the lightweight structure of a meringue dessert, that can help reduce aircraft engine noise and improve passenger comfort.

According to the researchers behind the material, the low-density graphene-based airgel weighs just 2.1 kg per cubic meter, making it the lightest soundproofing ever made.

Aircraft manufacturers could use it as insulation in aircraft engines to reduce noise to 16dB, reducing the roar of a 105dB jet engine taking off to a noise closer to that of a hair dryer.

The airgel’s meringue-like structure makes it extremely lightweight, meaning it could act as an insulator in aircraft engine nacelles, with almost no increase in overall weight, the team added.

The material is further optimized by the research team to provide better heat dissipation, providing benefits for fuel efficiency and safety.

“Obviously this is a very exciting material that experts can apply in products in a variety of ways – initially in aerospace, but potentially in many other fields, such as automotive and marine transportation, as well as building and construction,” says Professor Michele Meo from the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Meo added: “We have produced such an extremely low density by using a liquid combination of graphene oxide and a polymer, which is formed with whipped air bubbles and frozen.

At a very basic level, we can compare the technique to whipping proteins to make meringues – it is sturdy but contains a lot of air, so there is no weight or efficiency loss to achieve huge improvements in comfort and sound.

Although the team’s initial focus was on working with partners in aerospace to develop the material testing as a sound insulator in aircraft engines, they said the material could also help make panels in helicopters or car engines.

They also estimate the airgel could be up and running within 18 months. The researchers, from Bath’s Materials and Structures Center ( MAST), published their method for manufacturing the materials in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.