Everyone loves diamonds. They're luxurious, they're stylish, and they're the hardest natural material known to man. But did you know diamonds have an arch-nemesis, a type of stardust, that looks nearly identical and is almost as hard?
Over thousands of years, red giant stars have exploded, sending debris rocketing through space. This debris formed micron-sized particles inside meteorites, which eventually collided with Earth.
Nowadays, silicon carbide, otherwise known as carborundum, is used in a wide range of applications. Most popularly used as an abrasive due to its incredible hardness, silicon carbide is commonly used in the electronics and automotive industries, among many others.
How Was Silicon Carbide Discovered?
According to Science Mag, the Earth is composed of 28% silicon and 0.03% carbon. You might think you'd be able to find enough silicon carbide (SiC) by digging around a bit outside. However, unless you were walking along a meteor impact crater from supernova debris, you probably wouldn’t find any.
Oddly enough, silicon carbide is one of the rare, few minerals that was first created synthetically before it was even discovered in nature.
In 1891, Edward G. Acheson, an American inventor, was determined to find a way to produce artificial diamonds. Perhaps the gold rush just a few decades earlier inspired him to find himself some riches. After much trial and error, he began heating up carbon and clay (aluminum silicate).
Acheson discovered these shiny hexagonal crystals stuck to the carbon arc light he was using to heat it up. He called this compound carborundum, initially believing it was a form of crystallized alumina (similar to corundum).
Initially, he thought he stumbled upon the second-best precious stones since sapphires and rubies are different types of corundum. However, after further investigation, Acheson realized he discovered something entirely new: a compound almost as hard as diamond, which he soon realized was silicon carbide.
But this new compound didn't just make its way into the precious stones and jewelry industry. Instead, it took on a different application entirely. Crafted into chips or powder on an industrial scale, silicon carbide became one of the most in-demand abrasive applications.
It wasn’t until 14 years later that silicon carbide was first discovered in its natural form. Henri Moissan, a Nobel-prize-winning chemist, stumbled upon Moissanite in Diablo Canyon, Arizona, in 1905. To this day, SiC has never been found in large deposits in nature, so all SiC used in the modern world is synthetic.
What is Silicon Carbide Used For?
Since its discovery, silicon carbide has been manufactured for a variety of applications due to its incredible properties. Here are a few of its advantageous mechanical properties:
High thermal shock resistance
Exceptional chemical inertness
Low thermal expansion
High thermal conductivity
Due to its versatility, strength, and durability, SiC is widely used in several applications.
The refinement of silicon carbide by Edward G. Acheson, later coined the “Acheson process” led to mass commercial production of small silicon carbide crystals that were ground into powder form to be used as an industrial abrasive.
Its physical hardness makes SiC most ideal for abrasive processes like sandblasting, grinding, honing, and water jet cutting.
However, in recent years, SiC has emerged as a crucial technological component that’s vital in electronics. Silicon carbide is now being used as power semiconductors for everything from solar panels to electric vehicles and industrial motors.
Goldman Sachs predicts that using silicon carbide in electric vehicles will reduce manufacturing costs and the cost of ownership by approximately $2,000 per vehicle. They also estimate the silicon carbide market will hit $5 billion by 2030.
SiC also plays a critical role in a wide number of industries, including wear-resistant mechanical parts, industrial furnaces, and aerospace, and many more.
Silicon carbide has recently emerged as a vital technological material in the past few decades. Despite the fact that new technologies like solar energy and electric vehicles are pioneering the use of silicon carbide, we expect many more legacy industries to follow the same path.
Its incredible properties and the emergence of sophisticated material processing strategies promise a bright future for SiC in a variety of industries in the years to come.
Need a Chemical Solution For Your Production or Research Needs Today?
If you want high-purity chemicals, like Silicon Carbide (SiC) for your industrial production or research needs, Noah Technologies can help you. Noah is dedicated to providing our clients with the purest, safest chemicals on the market. Here are the grades of Silicon Carbide that we supply: