Silicone vs Silica vs Silicon: A Family Of Products, But Which Is Preferred?

Truly, they sound the same. And, on many levels, there are parallels that can be drawn between them for anyone who’s looking to make them out to be the same thing. 

Whether for manufacturing, medical services, construction, automotive parts, each of these materials comes in handy whenever you need to work. However, each of these materials comes with its own uniqueness – and, understanding this uniqueness will go a long way in helping you to discern which of them is perfect for use. 

This article examines the lines of convergence and divergence in the silicon vs silicone vs silica debate, allowing you to understand how each of the materials works.

Silicone vs Silica vs Silicon: Understanding The Materials & Their Properties 

silicone form

To start with, it is important to understand these materials themselves and why they have their form.

Silicon

Before we head into any of the silicate vs silicone or silica vs silicon debates, let’s look at each of the materials to understand how they work. 

Starting off, we have silicon. To manufacturers, material scientists, and metallurgists, silicon is one material that needs no introduction. It is one of the 97 constituent elements that can be found in the Earth’s core structure, and in fact, it is one of the most popular elements abundant in nature. 

With a makeup of about 28% of the planet’s crust, Silicon (Si) is one of the most consequential elements in the planet’s entire atmosphere. The element comes with a hint of blue and grey, as well as a metallic aesthetic that makes it quite hard to miss. Today, it is known for its semiconductivity, as well as trtravelence. The silicon element is also  brittle in nature, with a crystalline frame and high boiling and melting points respectively. 

In a single atom of silicon, you have 14 constituent electrons. The material’s electron configuration is [Ne] 3s² 3p², while its valence electrons consist of four electrons that hold 3p orbitals and one 3s orbital respectively. 

The combination of silicon and oxygen is what give us silicates. These silicates actually make up some of the most popular minerals available – including, but not limited to: 

  • Mica
  • Quartz
  • Prehnite
  • Jadeite

and more. 

There are many interesting facts about silicon. One of those is that you might find it a bit challenging to see the element in its elemental forms. This is because much of the silicon available tends to easily form bonds with oxygen within the Earth’s crust.

Another interesting part of silicon would be the material’s carbides. These compounds provide several beneficial characteristics, including and especially their intense strength and resistance to abrasion. They are popular in the manufacturing of household materials – primarily those made of ceramic outer shells. 

Just as well, the silicon element serves as a base material that is heavily involved in the development of silicones. These synthetic polymers are part of our comparison, and we’ll look into their specific properties in a bit.

Outlining the use of silicon in this age will be a herculean task. The material is a major part of the current information age, with its use in making microchips. Besides that, it is used in several industries – from automotives to manufacturing and much more.

Silica

Like silicon, silica exists in chemical form. However, where it stands as a distinct material is in its formation. Represented by the symbol SiO₂, the material is also known as silicon dioxide. And, it is actually one of the most popular and readily available compounds in the world – since it is a part of the sand we see everyday around it. 

Besides its component in sand, you can also find silica in quartz – and even several literal living organisms. It is an intricate material that exists as a synthetic product, as well as in compounds of different materials. 

For most silicates, you have a singular silicon atom that is paired with four oxygen atoms – a process that experts refer to as tetrahedral coordination

You should also remember that silica can be a 3D network solid – essentially, a phenomenon where a single silicon atom forms covalent bonds with the oxygen atoms that are surrounding it. This process is what scientists tend to call tetrahedral configuration. However, it is worth noting that silica in its molten form tends to display more unique physical features than when the material is in other forms. 

Silica can be formulated in different ways, although it can also be found naturally in several foods – while, in other cases, it is added to food supplements and components as an additive. With its anti-caking properties, the material ensures that food particles and components don’t stick together or form clumps. And, in some scenarios, the material can be used to regulate thickness formation and forming levels for liquids and drinks. 

Silicone 

Finally, we have the final part in this whole silica vs. silicone debate. 

Silicones primarily consist of different material groups – whether salines, fluids, or more. Each of them plays a significant role in several critical industries, from healthcare and personal products to automotives and construction. 

Also known as polysiloxane, silicone is  a synthetic polymer that comes with a structure of “-R2Si-O-SiR2-” – with “”R” denoting the organic group present here. In most cases, you can identify these compounds by their oily, transparent, or rubbery nature. 

Just like silicon, silicones have come in significant use across the manufacturing industry. And, at the moment, the material’s application continues to grow significantly. 

The chemical structure of silicon clearly shows it with a chain made from the bonding of a silicon atom with an oxygen atom. For each center where you find silicon, you have two attached organic groups – although, in most cases, methyl is used. 

Each of the silicone materials can be found in either cyclic or polymeric forms. And, it is important to remember that there are differences in factors like crosslinking, chain length, and side groups. These variations make it possible for manufacturers to make silicones in different compositions and with different constituent properties surrounding them.  

Silicon vs Silicone vs Silica: Characteristic Comparisons 

silica

So, how do these materials actually compare when it comes down to it? Below, you have a table that provides a perfect view of their parameters. 

Chemical Properties:

Parameter  Silicon  Silicone  Silica 
Chemical Formula  Si (R2SiO)n SiO₂
Form  Solid, with a shiny and metallic appearance Rubber-like, although it tends to exist in different forms – from gels to elastomers and more Occurring in different forms, from glass to sand and quartz 
Electrical Conductivity  High, since the material is a semiconductor  Can be electrically conductive when it is in its rubber form  None. it doesn’t have any electrons, so it doesn’t conduct electricity
Melting Point  High  Non-existent  High 
Thermal Stability  Thermally stable, thanks to the high strength of the Si-O and Si-C bonds. Present, as well as high dielectric strength and oxidation and chemical resistance Thermally stable as it doesn’t break down under high temperatures 
Biocompatibility  Highly biocompatible, and bio-dutable when it is brought in contact with host tissues  Biocompatibility is high with silicone Can be biocompatible, especially in the form of Silica nanoparticles (SiNP) 
Water Solubility  Not soluble in water  Not soluble in water Not soluble in water 
UV radiation resistance  Nil  Resists UV radiation  Resistant to UV degradation 

Comparison Of Their Physical Properties

Parameter  Silicon  Silicone  Silica 
State  Solid at room temperature  Synthetic polymer, usually in the form of a fluid, elastomer, or gel. Usually exists in the crystalline and amorphous forms
Appearance Gray or blue  Varies, depending on the formulation method  Can be transparent or opaque, depending on the form of silica it is
Density Approximately 2.33 grams per cubic centimeter Ranges from 0.97 to 1.1 grams per cubic centimeter  Usually ranges from  2.2 to 2.65 grams per cubic centimeter
Melting Point  1,414 degrees Celsius (2,577 degrees Fahrenheit). Broad range, depending on the specific formulation  1,710 degrees Celsius (3,110 degrees Fahrenheit) for crystalline silica
Hardness  Scores 6 to 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness Varying hardness levels, depending on the formulation type  Crystalline silica hits 7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. Amorphous silica is usually softer

How Do Their Mechanical Properties Compare?

Parameter  Silicon  Silicone  Silica 
Brittleness Silicone is very brittle  Nil Crystalline silica is brittle, while the amorphous variant shows less brittleness
Appearance Gray or blue  Varies, depending on the formulation method  Can be transparent or opaque, depending on the form of silica it is
Elasticity  Generally low elastic modulus, so it isn’t so flexible  Highly elastic and flexible material  Low elastic modulus, regardless of the form.
Tensile Strength  Moderate tensile strength  Moderate to high tenmsile strength, depending on the formulation   Moderate tensile strength, especially in the crystalline form 

Silicone vs Silica vs Silicon: What Goes Into Making Each Of Them?

The next point of distinction for these three materials will concern their manufacturing processes. Understanding how they are made should help you understand some of the differences in their properties and characteristics. 

The Manufacturing Process Of Silicon

When it comes to silicon, the manufacturing process tends to involve several steps – from extraction to purification and more. Below is a quick overview of how the process goes: 

Raw Material Extraction: 

As you can probably guess, the primary material that is used in developing silicon is silica. In most cases, manufacturers find the material in the form of sand or quartz. The silica material is also very much available naturally, as it can be found in the Earth’s crust. In most cases, it is dug up in mines or quarries, where it is transported to processing plants and worked on.  

Silica Purification: 

Once silica has been extracted, the material is made to undergo a purification process that allows you to take out any impurities. These could include aluminum, iron, and other elements. 

The purification step helps you to ensure that the silicon material you mine is of the highest quality. You can go through several purification steps, from washing to floatation and more. Just as well, it is important to incorporate chemical treatments to take out any impurities. 

Silica Reduction:

After you get your purified silica, you can subject it to a chemical reduction process that allows you to take out any elemental silicon from the compound. One of the most popular methods of silica reduction is the carbothermic reduction process – here, you combine silica with carbon and heat the mixture to a high temperature. The heating process helps you to separate any silicon from the silica compound, providing you with a clear product that’s ready to be used. 

Due to the reaction between silica and compound, you car carbon monoxide (CO) as well as elemental silicon. Eventually, you can release the CO gas, and you are left with nothing but molten silicon. 

Refining and Polysilicon Production:

Following the obtainment of molten silicon, it is now refinable and can be proecsssed further to take out impurities and achieve a more ideal material. Thanks to processes such as zone refilling and fractional distillation, this step should be seamless. 

In some cases, we could also see the refined silicon being processed further to produce polysilicon – a highly pure form of the material that is gotten in the form of chinks or rods. Polysilicon is actually the material that is used in making computer chips and semiconductors. 

Wafer Production and Semiconductor Manufacturing:

The refined polysilicon material is then processed to make single-crystal silicon wafers – essentially, the base material for making integrated circuits and other prominent computer chip devices. You can use processes such as cleaning, polishing, and slicing to achieve the  right levels of thickness and surface quality.

There are also additional steps  such as doping the silicon wafers with particular impurities to create the desired electrical properties for different electrical components and transistors. 

IC Fabrication and Device Assembly:

Eventually, the wafers will undergo different steps – from etching to deposition – to create patterns and layers of electrical components that will be placed on the surface of the wafer. 

As soon as you’ve been able to fabricate the integrated circuits on the wafer, you can begin testing the entire structure to check for operational efficiency and possible defects. Once the products pass the quality control tests, package and assemble them to create the chips that can be used in devices. 

Silicone: How It’s Formulated 

Manufacturing silicone is usually quite straightforward. However, as you’d expect, it is important for each process to be done right. 

Raw Material Gathering: 

Of course, the first step in this process is getting the raw materials. Here, we’re talking about silicon (in the form of silanes or the silicon metal itself) and methyl chloride. 

Hydrolysis and Formation of Siloxane Monomers:

In the hydrolysis process, silanes – which usually contain methyl groups that are attached to silicon atoms with water or alcohol acting as catalysts. This process breaks the silicon-oxygen bonds in the silanes, thus forming silanol groups. 

You could also add bases or acids to enhance the reaction rate. Eventually, the silanol groups can then be condensed with each other through polycondensation – a process which leads to the formation of siloxane monomers. 

Polymerization and Crosslinking:

With the siloxane monomers being formed, they are made to go through a polymerization process, where they form chains of units. This process can occur through different methods, including catalytic and thermal processes. Materials like platinum can act as catalysts, bolstering the process even more. 

Depending on the properties you want, you can use different types of siloxane monomers or additives to modify the polymer structure or introduce particular characteristics. 

Processing & Vulcanization: 

The polymer gotten from the above process will most likely be in the form of a liquid or gum. Additional processing can be done, ensuring that you get the right properties and consistency. 

One major processing operation is the addition of additives such as reinforcing agents and pigments, which will help to improve the material’s overall physical properties and optimize its color respectively. 

The vulcanization step helps  you to convert the silicone polymer into a more durable form, and it can be achieved through chemical curing agents, heat, or radiation – all of which will kick off further crosslinking reactions within the entire polymer structure. 

Forming and Final Products:

Eventually, the processed silicone material is shaped into different forms – whether it’s a liquid, an elastomer, a gel, or a rubber-like material. Based on the desired application, silicone can be extruded, molded, or cast into specific products or shapes. 

The final product can be used in different industries and for different purposes.

The Stages Of Silica Development 

The development of silica will involve different stages. Here is a quick breakdown:  

Silica Formation:

The general silica structure consists of silicon and oxygen. And, as we explained earlier, it occurs naturally in different forms, including sand, quartz, and glass. 

In general, silica is formed through geological processes where silicon and oxygen-interacting compounds interact within the Earth’s crust across a prolonged period – usually millions of years. Eventually, thanks to weathering, sediment deposition, and perhaps even erosion, the material is formed and brought to life. 

Extraction and Mining:

In terms of silica development, the first stage is the extraction of silica-rich materials from its natural deposits. The mining process can be varied, whether you’d prefer an underground mining service or an open-pit process. Your choice will depend mostly on the deposit’s characteristics, the location, and your intended use for silica. 

Processing and Purification:

Once it is mined, the raw silica undergoes processing and purification to take out any debris or impurities. The processing techniques applicable here include screening, crushing, and perhaps even grinding. The objective is to ensure that you get the right particle size and purity. 

In some cases, you could achieve further purification with steps such as flotation, magnetic separation, and chemical treatments. These help you to take out aluminum, iron, and other possible impurities. 

Silica Refining and Production:

Finally, you can take the refined silica and process it into different forms based on your intended use. Silica is quite flexible, and you can process it into amorphous silica or the more popular silica gel. 

There is also crystalline silica – such as the high-purity version of the material – that can be processed into different grades and used in multiple industries. 

Silicone vs Silica vs Silicon: How Are The Materials Used?

chip

Now, let’s look into the functionalities of each material. 

Silicon:

  • Electronics Industry: The most prominent use of silicon today has to be in the electronics space. With use in making integrated circuits, microchips, and other components, this material is one of the most sought after in the world.
  • Solar Energy: The world is currently moving quickly towards renewables and solar energy. And in this field, silicon is also useful as it helps in the development of solar cells and photovoltaic panels.  Its use is in converting sunlight to electricity, making it a major part of the industry. 
  • Automotive Industry: Silicon can also be used to make seals, gaskets, fluids, and lubricants that are used in the automotive industry. 
  • Healthcare and Medical Devices: By-products of silicon can be found in the healthcare space, where they are used to make tubes, prosthetics, implants, and so on.
  • Household and Consumer Goods: Some of silicon’s by-products can also be used to manufacture consumer products such as utensils, bakeware, cookware, and other personal care items. You can compare silica vs silicone in makeup, howeve,r to see which works best for you.

Silicone:

  • Sealants and Adhesives: Silicone is one of the most popular materials in the development of sealants – which themselves can be applied in several fields, ranging from construction to manufacturing. Their excellent flexibility and bonding properties make them very useful, especially in extreme temperatures. 
  • Lubricants and Greases: Silicone’s material characteristics make it a lock for making lubricants. With its moisture and resistance to both temperature and chemicals, these lubricants are useful in fields like machinery and aerospace. 
  • Electrical Insulation: When you consider silicone’s electrical insulation properties, you can see why it is so useful in making coatings, insulating materials, and more for electrical components. 
  • Medical and Healthcare: Silicone is also a popular material for making catheters, prosthetics, medical tubes, and more in the healthcare space. These materials offer impressive flexibility, biocompatibility, and durability to optimize medical devices.
  • Personal Care and Cosmetics: Skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products all require silicone in their build as it offers conditioning and smoothening properties. It is worth noting that you might need to consider the silicon vs silica hair or the silica vs silicone skincare debate to see which material will be better.
  • Mold Making and Casting: Rubbers made out of silicone can be used for casting and mold making. With the material’s flexibility, it makes it very easy to replicate intricate details and produce complex shapes.

Silica:

  • Glass Manufacturing: Silica is one of the most prominent ingredients in any glass product. It offers temperature resistance, as well as transparency and strength to the product, making it a clearly defined glass material.
  • Ceramics and Refractories: Besides glass, silica can also be used to produce ceramics and refractory materials. Its high hardness and melting point – as well as thermal stability – makes it great for developing tiles, pots, insulation materials, and more. 
  • Construction Materials: Gravel, sand, and other silica-based materials can be used in construction projects – whether it’s for making concrete, mortar, or other building materials. 
  • Filtration and Water Treatment: Several industries – including water treatment, air filtration, and general construction – also use silica as a filtration medium.

Of course, considering that these materials tend to work in several overlapping fields, remember to consider your options. From silica vs silicon supplements to comparisons in other areas, you can reach out to us at Legenday for quality advice on which to choose. 

Silicone vs Silica vs Silicon: Which is Better, and Where Does Each Product Shine?

silicone use

While these materials are incredibly useful, they also come with a few drawbacks that should be noted. In this section, we’ll go through the pros and cons of each material briefly: 

Pros and Cons of Silicon

Pros  Cons
Material Abundance Overall Brittle Nature
Impressive Semiconductor Properties Energy-Intensive Production Process
High Temperature Resistance High Melting Point 
Optimal Mechanical Strength
Operational Versatility 

Pros and Cons of Silicone 

Pros  Cons
Top-Notch Heat Resistance  Relatively Expensive Material 
Flexible, Elastic Nature  Issues With Surface Adhesion 
Chemical Inertness Poor Tensile Strength 
Operational Versatility  Environmental Concerns 
Biocompatibility 

Pros and Cons of Silica 

Pros  Cons
Abundant Material  Processing Challenges
Resistance To Heat And Abrasion Brittle Nature 
Optical Properties  Inadequate Thermal Expansion 
Chemical Inertness Environmental Impact 

As the table shows, there is a lot of overlap in the benefits and drawbacks of these materials. The characteristics themselves can vary based on the material form as well – so, you could compare silica vs silicone packets or silica vs silicone glass to see which works better for you. 

As always, we at Legenday can provide all the counsel you ned for making a choice.

How Do You Know Which Material To Choose?

silica sand

When deciding whether to choose silicon, silicone, or silica, several factors will come into play. And, understanding these factors will be critical to your decision making process. 

Here are a few of the most prominent ones to keep in mind:

  • Environmental Concerns 

As we outlined, there are several steps that go into manufacturing each of these materials is extensive. This is why you want to look into the possible environmental concerns that could arise due to the formulation. 

Just as well, you want to look into whether your use of any of these materials will induce any possible environmental issues. And, examining the extent of these issues should provide a better look into whether or not you will be able to get optimal utility from any of the materials. 

  • Project Parameters 

Of course, these materials don’t all work for the same things. Depending on the project and your requirement of it, you might need to make some tweaks here and there to the material choice itself. 

For instance, you might consider the silicone vs silica supplements debate if you’re looking for a material to add to a medical supplement. Silicone works well as a bonding agent, while silica generally helps cut down cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart failures. 

Based on your objective, you can make a choice. 

  • Cost 

Per usual, cost is also a major consideration in most cases when you’re looking to make a choice. While you should always look out for your finances, it is also important to ensure that you’re getting high-quality products. And, as you can expect, these tend to cost money. 

To wit, we recommend giving us a call when you need silicone, silicone, or silica materials. At Legenday, we can help give you proper bang for your buck and provide high-quality materials to you. 

  • Availability 

Availability should be a consideration as well, since some of these products might not always be readily available and in the appropriate measures. 

  • Long-Term Viability 

Finally, consider the long-term use of the product. In general, you need a product that’s able to operate and stay functional for as long as possible, as this will help you save money and optimize resources. 

Conclusion

Silicon, silicone, and silica are essentially all products of the same material family. However, they also differ on several fronts – from their manufacturing process to their benefits. 

If you need to make a decision or get your hands on high-quality materials, then give us a call at Legenday. We will be able to get you what you need, and in good time. 

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