Curtin find could slash energy use and cost in making silicon

January 20, 2021

Curtin University researchers have uncovered a method of making silicon, found commonly in electronics such as phones, cameras and computers, at room temperature.

The new technique works by replacing extreme heat with electrical currents to produce the same chemical reaction that turns silica into silicon at a reduced economic and environmental cost.

Lead researcher, PhD candidate Song Zhang from Curtin's School of Molecular and Life Sciences said that while the team's discovery was made at the nanoscale, it defines a way of replacing thermochemical processes with electrochemical processes, which can efficiently convert into clean electricity.

"Silicon is crucial to technology and tech devices as a semi-conductor in the computer and microelectronic industries, but the process to make it typically involves extreme and expensive measures," Mr Zhang said.

"Typically silica, the natural oxide of silicon, is melted at around 1,700 ºC to make the oxygen atoms "jiggle" enough so they end up leaving the silica to yield elemental silicon. However our research shows this conversion is possible without extreme temperatures.

"We achieved this by using electrochemical reactions to convert clean electricity directly into chemical energy to strip the oxygen from the silica, which is complex because silica is an electrical insulator and doesn't carry a current."

The proof-of-concept experiment was achieved by immersing perfectly cut silicon crystals in a water electrolyte, then deliberately removing electrons to generate a thin layer of silica, before forcing electrons back towards the silica to reform nanoscale islands of silicon.

Research supervisor and co-author Associate Professor Simone Ciampi, also from Curtin's School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said the research is an exciting development.

"The team has shown that, on a very small scale, it is possible to reversibly convert silica to silicon at room temperature, which has immediate day to day implications for analytical measurements done with silicon electrodes," Associate Professor Ciampi said.

"Someday this technique could be used to generate practical amounts of silicon from silica, and undoubtedly this research provides the starting point for further investigations."
-end-
The paper, Common Background Signals in Voltammograms of Crystalline Silicon Electrodes are Reversible Silica-Silicon Redox Chemistry at Highly Conductive Surface Sites, is published in the Journal of American Chemical Society and is available online here.

Curtin University

Related Silicon Articles from Brightsurf:

Single photons from a silicon chip
Quantum technology holds great promise: Quantum computers are expected to revolutionize database searches, AI systems, and computational simulations.

For solar boom, scrap silicon for this promising mineral
Cornell University engineers have found that photovoltaic wafers in solar panels with all-perovskite structures outperform photovoltaic cells made from state-of-the-art crystalline silicon, as well as perovskite-silicon tandem cells, which are stacked pancake-style cells that absorb light better.

Surprisingly strong and deformable silicon
Researchers at ETH have shown that tiny objects can be made from silicon that are much more deformable and stronger than previously thought.

A leap in using silicon for battery anodes
Scientists have come up with a novel way to use silicon as an energy storage ingredient.

Flexible thinking on silicon solar cells
Combining silicon with a highly elastic polymer backing produces solar cells that have record-breaking stretchability and high efficiency.

No storm in a teacup -- it's a cyclone on a silicon chip
University of Queensland researchers have combined quantum liquids and silicon-chip technology to study turbulence for the first time, opening the door to new navigation technologies and improved understanding of the turbulent dynamics of cyclones and other extreme weather.

Black silicon can help detect explosives
Scientists from Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, and Melbourne Center for Nanofabrication developed an ultrasensitive detector based on black silicon.

2D antimony holds promise for post-silicon electronics
Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering are searching for alternative materials to silicon with semiconducting properties that could form the basis for an alternative chip.

Silicon technology boost with graphene and 2D materials
In a review published in Nature, ICFO researchers and collaborators report on the current state, challenges, opportunities of graphene and 2D material integration in Silicon technology.

Light and sound in silicon chips: The slower the better
Acoustics is a missing dimension in silicon chips because acoustics can complete specific tasks that are difficult to do with electronics and optics alone.

Read More: Silicon News and Silicon Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.