Ambient-dried highly flexible copolymer aerogels and their nanocomposites with polypyrrole for thermal insulation, separation, and pressure sensing†
Aerogels exhibit unique properties, but their practical applications have been restricted by low mechanical strength and costly supercritical drying; it remains difficult to obtain highly flexible aerogels with good thermal insulation and absorption by ambient pressure drying (APD). Here, we report novel highly flexible aerogels based on the polyvinylpolymethylsiloxane (PVPMS)/polyvinyltrimethylsilane (PVTMS) co-network, which consists of inter-cross-linked hydrocarbon and siloxane polymers with dangling trimethylsilyl groups, and its nanocomposite with polypyrrole (PPy). The PVPMS/PVTMS copolymer aerogels are facilely synthesized by a consecutive radical co-polymerization and hydrolytic polycondensation strategy from two monomers vinylmethyldimethoxysilane and trimethylvinylsilane without additional cross-linkers, followed by APD without any post-gelation modification. The PPy nanocomposite aerogels are synthesized by an in situ oxidation polymerization of pyrrole in the copolymer aerogel networks, followed by APD. The resulting aerogels consist of meso- to macro-scaled pore structures with tunable skeleton and pore sizes with variable cross-linking density and bulk density. In addition, these aerogels show good hydrophobicity and high flexibility in both compression and bending. Moreover, different functionalities such as excellent thermal insulation, oil–water separation, and pressure sensing can be imparted, allowing them to exhibit potential applications in thermal insulation, separation, and sensing.