Silicon dioxide

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Silicon dioxide
Towering Sand Dunes.jpg
Other names Silica, Quartz, sand
CAS number 7631-86-9
Molecular formula SiO2
Molar mass 60.1
Appearance white powdery substance
solid (when pure)
Density 2.2 g/cm³
Melting point

1650 (±75) °C

Boiling point

2230 °C

Solubility in water 0.012 g in 100mL
Molecular shape tetrahedral
NFPA 704

NFPA 704.svg

R-phrases R42 R43 R49
S-phrases S22 S36 S37 S45 S53
Flash point non-flammable
Related Compounds
Other anions Silicon sulfide
Other cations Carbon dioxide
Germanium dioxide
Tin(IV) oxide
Lead(IV) oxide
Related compounds Silicic acid
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state
(at 25 °C, 100 kPa)

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


The chemical compound silicon dioxide, also known as silica or silox (from the Latin "silex"), is an oxide of silicon, chemical formula SiO2, and has been known for its hardness since the 9th century[1]. Silica is most commonly found in nature as sand or quartz, as well as in the cell walls of diatoms. It is a principal component of most types of glass and substances such as concrete.

Manufactured forms

130m²/g surface area silica fume

Silica is manufactured in several forms including:

It is used in the production of various products.

  • Inexpensive soda-lime glass is the most common and typically found in drinking glasses, bottles, and windows.
  • A raw material for many whiteware ceramics such as earthenware, stoneware and porcelain.
  • A raw material for the production of Portland cement.
  • A food additive, primarily as a flow agent in powdered foods, or to absorb water (see the ingredients list for).
  • The natural ("native") oxide coating that grows on silicon is hugely beneficial in microelectronics. It is a superior electric insulator, possessing high chemical stability. In electrical applications, it can protect the silicon, store charge, block current, and even act as a controlled pathway to allow small currents to flow through a device. At room temperature, however, it grows extremely slowly, and so to manufacture such oxide layers on silicon, the traditional method has been the deliberate heating of silicon in high temperature furnaces within an oxygen ambient (thermal oxidation).
  • Raw material for aerogel in the Stardust spacecraft
  • Used in the extraction of DNA and RNA due to its ability to bind to the nucleic acids under the presence of chaotropes.
  • Added to medicinal anti-foaming agent, like Simethicone, in a small proportion to enhance defoaming activity.
  • As hydrated silica in Toothpaste (abrasive to fight away plaque.)

Health effects

Manufactured silica fume at maximum surface area of 380m²/g

Inhaling finely divided crystalline silica dust in very small quantities (OSHA allows 0.1mg/m3) over time can lead to silicosis, bronchitis or (much more rarely) cancer, as the dust becomes lodged in the lungs and continuously irritates them, reducing lung capacities (silica does not dissolve over time). This effect can be an occupational hazard for people working with sandblasting equipment, products that contain powdered silica, and so on. But children, asthmatics of any age, allergy sufferers and the elderly, all of whom have reduced lung capacity, can be affected in much shorter periods of time.

In all other respects, silicon dioxide is inert and harmless. When silica is ingested orally, it passes unchanged through the gastrointestinal tract, exiting in the feces, leaving no trace behind. Small pieces of silicon dioxide are equally harmless, as long as they are not large enough to mechanically obstruct the GI tract, or jagged enough to lacerate its lining. Silicon dioxide produces no fumes and is insoluble in vivo. It is indigestible, with zero nutritional value and zero toxicity.


Silicon dioxide is formed when silicon is exposed to oxygen (or air). A very thin layer (approximately 1 nm or 10 Å) of so-called 'native oxide' is formed on the surface when silicon is exposed to air under ambient conditions.
Higher temperatures and alternate environments are used to grow well-controlled layers of silicon dioxide on silicon, for example at temperatures of 600 -1200 °C so-called "dry" or "wet" oxidation using O2 or H2O respectively.[2] The thickness of the layer of silicon replaced by the dioxide is 44% of the thickness of the silicon dioxide layer produced.[2]
Alternative methods used to deposit a layer of SiO2 include:[3]

  • Low temperature oxidation (LTO) of silane
SiH4 + 2O2 → SiO2 + 2H2O (at 400-450 °C)
Si(OC2H5)4 → SiO2 + H2O + 2C2H4
  • Plasma enhanced chemical vapour deposition using TEOS at approximately 400°C
Si(OC2H5)4 + 12O2 → SiO2 + 10H2O + 8CO2

Pyrogenic silica(sometimes called fumed silica or silica fume), which is a very fine particulate form of silicon dioxide, is prepared by burning SiCl4 in an oxygen rich hydrocarbon flame to produce a "smoke" of SiO2:[4]

SiCl4 + 2H2 + O2 → SiO2 + 4HCl

Quartz exhibits a maximum solubility in water at around 340 °C [5]. This property is used to grow single crystals of quartz in a hydrothermal process where natural quartz is dissolved in superheated water in a pressure vessel which is cooler at the top. Crystals of 0.5 -1 kg can be grown over a period of 1-2 months.[6] these crystals are a sourcer of very pure quartz for use in electronic applications.[4]
Fluorine reacts with silicon dioxide to form SiF4 and O2 whereas the other halogen gases (Cl2, Br2, I2) react much less readily.[4]

Silicon dioxide is attacked by hydrofluoric acid (HF) to produce "hexafluorosilicic acid":[6]

SiO2 + 6HF → H2SiF6 + 2H2O

HF is used to remove or pattern silicon dioxide in the semiconductor industry.
Silicon dioxide dissolves in hot concentrated alkali or fused hydroxide (e.g):[4]

SiO2 + NaOH → Na2SiO3 + H2O

Silicon dioxide reacts with basic metal oxides (e.g. sodium oxide, potassium oxide, lead(II) oxide, zinc oxide or mixtures of oxides forming silicates and glasses as the Si-O-Si bonds in silica are broken successively.[6] As an example the reaction of sodium oxide and SiO2 can produce sodium orthosilicate, sodium silicate and glasses, depending on the proportions of reactants:[4]

2Na2O + SiO2 → Na4SiO4
Na2O + SiO2 → Na2SiO3
(0.25 - 0.8)Na2O + SiO2 → glasses

Examples of such glasses have commercial significance e.g. soda lime glass,borosilicate glass, lead glass. In these glasses silica is termed the network former or lattice former.[6]
With silicon at high temperatures gaseous SiO is produced:[6]

SiO2 + Si → 2SiO (gas)

Structure and properties

SiO2 has a number of distinct crystalline forms in addition to amorphous forms. With the exception of stishovite and fibrous sulfur, all of the crystalline forms involve tetrahedral SiO4 units linked together by shared vertices in different arrangements. Silicon-oxygen bond lengths vary between the different crystal forms, for example in α-quartz the bond length is 161 pm, whereas in α-tridymite it is in the range 154-171 pm.[6]. The Si-O-Si angle also varies between a low value of 140° in α-tridymite, up to 180° in β-tridymite. In α-quartz the Si-O-Si angle is 144°.
Fibrous sulfur has a structure similar to that of SiS2 with chains of edge-sharing SiO4 tetrahedra.
Stishovite, the highest pressure form, in contrast has a rutile like structure where silicon is 6 coordinate. The density of stishovite is 4.287 g/cm3, which compares to α-quartz, the densest of the low pressure forms, which has a density of 2.648 g/cm3.[4] The difference in density can be ascribed to the increase in coordination as the six shortest Si-O bond lengths in stishovite (four Si-O bond lengths of 176 pm and two others of 181 pm) are greater than the Si-O bond length (161 pm) in α-quartz.[7] The change in the coordination increases the ionicity of the Si-O bond.[8]
Note that the only stable form under normal conditions is α-quartz and this is the form in which crystalline silicon dioxide is usually encountered.[4] In nature impurities in crystalline α-quartz can give rise to colours[4] (see quartz for a list).

Crystalline forms of SiO2[6]
Form Space group Structural features Notes
α-quartz rhombohedral
Helical chains making individual single crystals optically active α-quartz converts to β-quartz at 573°C
β-quartz hexagonal closely related to α-quartz (with an Si-O-Si angle of 155°) and optically active β-quartz converts to β-tridymite at 870°C
α-tridymite orthorhombic metastable form under normal pressure
β-tridymite hexagonal closely related to α-tridymite β-tridymite converts to β-cristobalite 1470°C
α-cristobalite tetragonal metastable form under normal pressure
β-cristobalite cubic closely related to α-cristobalite melts at 1705°C
keatite tetragonal Si5O10, Si4O14, Si8O16 rings synthesised from amorphous silica and alkali at high pressure
coesite monoclinic Si4O8 and Si8O16 rings high pressure form (higher than keatite)
stishovite tetragonal rutile like with 6 coordinate Si high pressure form (higher than coesite) and the densest of the polymorphs
melanophlogite cubic Si5O10, Si6O12 rings mineral always found with hydrocarbons in interstitial spaces-a clathrasil[9]
fibrous orthorhombic like SiS2 consisting of edge sharing chains

Molecular forms of silicon dioxide

When molecular silicon monoxide, SiO is condensed in an argon matrix cooled with helium along with oxygen atoms generated by microwave discharge molecular SiO2 is produced which has a linear structure.[10] The Si-O bond length is 148.3 pm which compares with the length of 161 pm in α-quartz. The bond energy is estimated at 621.7 kJ/mol.[10]
Dimeric silicon dioxide, (SiO2)2 has been prepared by reacting O2 with matrix isolated dimeric silicon monoxide, (Si2O2).[10] In dimeric silicon dioxide there are two oxygen atoms bridging between the silicon atoms with an Si-O-Si angle of 94° and bond length of 164.6 pm and the terminal Si-O bond length is 148.2pm.[10]


  1. Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (Spring, 1961). "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition", Technology and Culture 2 (2), pp. 97-111 [100].
    "Ibn Firnas was a polymath: a physician, a rather bad poet, the first to make glass from stones (quartz?), a student of music, and inventor of some sort of metronome."
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sunggyu Lee (2006) Encyclopedia of chemical processing , CRC Press, ISBN 0824755634
  3. Robert Doering, Yoshio Nishi (2007), Handbook of Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology, CRC Press, ISBN 1574446754
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7
  5. The solubility of amorphous silica in water at high temperatures and high pressures Fournier R.O , Rowe J.J., American Mineralogist (1977), 62, 1052-1056
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Egon Wiberg, Arnold Frederick Holleman (2001) Inorganic Chemistry, Elsevier ISBN 0123526515
  7. Wells A.F. (1984) Structural Inorganic Chemistry 5th edition Oxford Science Publications ISBN 0-19-855370-6
  8. Electron-density distribution in stishovite, SiO2: a new high-energy synchrotron-radiation study Kirfel A., Krane H.-G., Blaha P., Schwarz K., Lippmann T., Acta Cryst. (2001). A57, 663-677 doi:10.1107/S0108767301010698
  9. Rosemarie Szostak (1998) Molecular sieves: Principles of Synthesis and Identification, Springer,ISBN 0751404802
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Peter Jutzi, Ulrich Schubert, (2003), Silicon chemistry: from the atom to extended systems, Wiley-VCH ISBN 3527306471


  • R. K. Iler, The Chemistry of Silica (ISBN 0-471-02404-X)

See also

External links

bn:সিলিকন ডাই অক্সাইড bs:Silicijum dioksid ca:Diòxid de silici cs:Oxid křemičitý da:Siliciumdioxid de:Siliciumdioxid et:Ränidioksiideu:Silizio dioxidohr:Silicijev dioksid it:Silice he:צורן דו-חמצני la:Silica lv:Silīcija dioksīds lt:Silicio dioksidas hu:Szilícium-dioxid nl:Siliciumdioxidequ:Ullayasimple:Silicon dioxide sk:Oxid kremičitý sr:Силицијум диоксид fi:Piidioksidi sv:Kiseldioxid uk:Діоксид силіцію