• Metallurgical Silicon Metal
  • Mines Producing Metallurgical Silicon Metal

Metallurgical silicon metal is a metalloid, or semi-metallic substance having many of the characteristics of metals. Only oxygen is more abundant than silicon in the earth's crust and it occurs in nature in various forms of silicates, or as a silicon dioxide, although it is rarely found in its purest form in volcanic exhalations.

Silicon, is found primarily in sand, opal, agate, amethyst, crystal, rock, quartz and flint as an oxide. In fact the name itself is derived from the latin word 'silicus' which means flint. Silicate materials are also found in mica, clay, feldspar, asbestos and granite. It is abundant, one of the most useful of the elements and easy to mine.

Metallurgical silicon metal is mostly used as an alloying material in the aluminium industry because of its ability to add strength to aluminium products. There has been a steady growth in demand from the aluminium industry for metallurgical silicon metal owing to the increased use of aluminium in the motor car, aircraft and structural engineering industries. Aluminium alloys are more resistant to corrosion and lighter than carbon-steel, as well as being able to made with the addition of manganese, magnesium, zinc and copper, as well as silicon.

Metallurgical silicon metal is produced on a commercial scale by using carbothermic (the use of carbon as a reducing agent) reaction of quartz in an electric arc furnace using carbon electrodes. To get this reaction the temperature in the reaction area has to be over 1,800 degrees Celsius. The reaction taking place with wood, charcoal and coal inside the furnace. The liquid silicon collects in the bottom of the furnace from where it is drained and cooled. In order to receive a commercial grade result the metallurgical silicon metal has to be around 98 percent pure silicon. Most metallurgical silicon metal produced in this way is made in China, Russia, Brazil, Norway, South Africa and the USA.

The main uses of metallurgical silicon metal are as follows:
- In the motor car industry replacing heavy cast iron components. This results in weight reduction that in turn allows for lower fuel consumption and a benefit to the environment by conserving fossil fuel and a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
- A growing demand from the solar power generation industry as solar panels are made from silicon.
- Silicon based polymers as an alternative to hydrocarbon products such as; hair and skin products, resins, grease and lubricants
- Silicon chips that are used in many popular electronic devises

There is often confusion experienced between the defining of silicate from silicon. In simple terms silicate is made up of metals such as aluminium, oxygen and silicon. On the other hand silicon is made up of different compounds. The main difference between the two is that silicon is one of the elements required to make silicate but silicate comprises silicon and other elements. Metallurgical silicon metal's primary use is in the aluminium casting industry where it is made into aluminium silicon alloy parts . Its other main uses is in the chemical industry where it is used to make fumed silica. Fumed silica is used as a thickening as well as an anti-caking agent in powders and products such as tooth paste and cat box filler.

Australian Mines that produce Metallurgical Silicon Metal

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