This article describes the fabrication of nanocellulose fibers (NCFs) with different morphologies and surface properties from biomass resources as well as their self-aggregation into lightweight aerogels. By carefully modulating the nanofibrillation process, four types of NCFs could be readily fabricated, including long aggregated nanofiber bundles, long individualized nanofibers with surface C6-carboxylate groups, short aggregated nanofibers, and short individualized nanofibers with surface sulfate groups. Free-standing lightweight aerogels were obtained from the corresponding aqueous NCF suspensions through freeze-drying. The structure of the aerogels could be controlled by manipulating the type of NCFs and the concentration of their suspensions. A possible mechanism for the self-aggregation of NCFs into two- or three-dimensional aerogel nanostructures was further proposed. Owing to web-like structure, high porosity, and high surface reactivity, the NCF aerogels exhibited high mechanical flexibility and ductility, and excellent properties for water uptake, removal of dye pollutants, and the use as thermal insulation materials. The aerogels also displayed sound-adsorption capability at high frequencies.
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