How Silica Is Used in Construction


April 22, 2022

Shop Now

As a silicon wafer manufacturer, it’s important for us to understand each step in the supply chain. As we’ve previously discussed, the semiconductor supply chain is complex, and even one issue can cause problems with ensuring that electrical devices get the processing power they need.

While we work with a variety of wafer materials, one of the most common is silicon. While it’s the second most popular element in the earth’s crust, it still needs to be mined. There’ve been some recent price fluctuations with the raw material, which makes it worth discussing.

Today, we’ll discuss why silica is so frequently used in the construction industry and explain its relationship with silicon.

What Is the Difference Between Silicon and Silica?

Silicon can be found on the Periodic Table of Elements. In semiconductor manufacturing, we typically want to use the purest form of it possible. This is important to take advantage of both its conductive and non-conductive properties.

On the other hand, the construction industry typically uses silica.

Looking at them on a molecular level:

  • Silicon (S) is an atom of silicon.
  • Silica (Si02) is an atom of silicon bonded with two oxygen atoms.

Silica is found in nature much more readily than silicon, in no small part due to how readily oxygen combines with elements. The two of them also form a strong bond, which is why a silicon atom is less likely to be found in nature by itself.

This is one of the reasons why growth method is such an important part of wafer manufacturing. We want to get the purest form of the element possible, which we do by encouraging crystal growth.

The construction industry, on the other hand, can make use of the less pure silica form.

Since it’s common to see silicon bonded to oxygen, there are many variations of this molecular structure, which are referred to as silicates. These are often used as binding agents and can include:

  • Amphibole
  • Feldspar
  • Pyroxene
  • Quartz

How Is Silicon Used in the Construction Industry?

Silica is a common molecule seen in nearly all kinds of rocks. It’s therefore commonly encountered by many construction workers. It’s much less common for construction companies to buy silicon than it is for them to use materials that already contain it.

Along with its natural presence in many construction materials, silica is also often used in its sand form. Silica sand is stronger than regular sand, which makes it preferable for use in construction projects. It’s also common on golf fields.

While silica is much more common than the purer silicon, there are situations where silicon will also be used. Most commonly you’ll see this with silicon resins, which can help an underlying material resist all kinds of damage, like what you might expect from heat or oil.

Because silica is so strong, it can also be used as an incredibly powerful binding agent. This is especially important for areas that will be exposed to water, but binding agents can also protect against damage from air or acid.

Why Is Silica So Commonly Found in Rocks?

The presence of silica in construction materials can likely be explained by the way the silicon atom bonds with oxygen. Oxygen is already prone to bonding very easily with other elements, and the fact that both silicon and oxygen are so prevalent means that they’re more likely to be found together.

Oxygen is essentially so omnipresent and ready to bind with silicon that it becomes difficult to find silicon by itself without human intervention.

the construction industry use the same form of silicon as silicon wafer manufacturers

Silica and Construction Safety

Because silicon is naturally present in so many construction materials, it needs to be taken as a serious safety concern by construction companies. It’s actually the second-most dangerous inhalable substance construction workers are likely to encounter, after absestos.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has outlined guidelines for how this silica dust needs to be handled for both construction workers, as well as in general workplace environments.

While everyone is likely to be surrounded by silica at some point – simply walking into a building made of stone or concrete is enough – silica usually isn’t inhaled.

Instead, it becomes airborne during the construction process. According to OSHA, this material can be released into the air when:

  • Cutting
  • Drilling
  • Grinding
  • Sawing

While the silicon wafer manufacturing industry has its own safety risks that we take very seriously, there isn’t the same level of risk associated with inhalable silica.

silicon wafer manufacturers producing high-quality wafers

Do Semiconductor Manufacturers and Construction Companies Compete for Silicon?

In the space of two months last year, silicon prices tripled. China drastically lowered its manufacturing capacity for the metal, causing yet another shock to the supply chain.  

This begs the question: do the construction and semiconductor industries compete for silicon?

In most cases, they do not. Much of the silicon used during construction is simply an element already present in the construction material, and in fact construction companies need to have safety standards in place to account for the dangerous effects of inhaling silicon.

The process for mining silica sand is also different than the process for finding the silicon necessary for wafers.

Will Silicon Prices Continue to Rise?

Although silicon metal prices spiked last year, they have begun to stabilize. In fact, they’ve been going down in 2022. There tends to be some variation in the metal’s price from year to year. A pound of silicon cost:

  • 116.56 cents in 2017.
  • 134.15 cents in 2018.
  • 105.7 cents in 2019.
  • 96.84 cents in 2020.
  • 140 cents in 2021.

While there have been recent concerns about inflation in a variety of contexts, silicon is plentiful enough that we shouldn’t see major price fluctuations. The 300% spike was a blip that doesn’t speak to more long-term trends.

Looking for a Silicon Wafer Manufacturer?

Wafer World has you covered. For decades, we’ve been on the cutting edge of semiconductor manufacturing, working with our clients to get them the exact semiconductor material they need. When you choose us, you can rest easy knowing your wafer needs are in good hands.

Have any questions about what we can do for you? Would you like to request a quote for a product you can’t find on our site? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us today. We’re always happy to help businesses looking to partner with a quality silicon wafer manufacturer.

Wafer World Banner