Since most wafers on which electronic devices are built are made of silicon, this material plays a crucial role in the semiconductor industry. Batches of silicon wafers are used to fabricate the microchips that power smartphones, tablets, computers, data centers, high-performance computing, and the internet. If you’re wondering how this semiconductor material is made, we’ve pulled together the critical steps of the silicon manufacturing process.
It’s important to note that silicon metal is produced from the reaction of silica and carbon materials such as coal, coke, and wood chips. While silica comes in metallurgical grade gravel, coal is usually of low ash content, and the woodchips are hardwood.
The reduction process uses a submerged electric arc furnace for heating silica and coke in high temperatures. This method triggers a reaction where the oxygen is removed, carbon is displaced, and silicon is formed. The reduction process begins with placing the raw materials into the furnace before the lid is placed into position.
As electric current forms an arc as it passes through the electrodes in the lid, it generates heat that melts the material. Consequently, the reaction of sand with carbon forms silicon and carbon monoxide. Next, calcium and aluminum impurities are reduced by treating the molten metal with oxygen and air.
The oxidized material called slag is poured off into large cast-iron trays and cooled. Once the cooling process is complete, the silicon metal is dumped into a truck to break it up for storage. Moreover, jaw or cone crushers are used to reduce the size of the metal based on customer specifications.
In most cases, silicon metal is packaged in wooden boxes or large sacks. Furthermore, when the material is in powder form, manufacturers package it in plastic pails, paper bags, and steel drums.
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