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Nat Mater. 2003 Jun;2(6):397-401.

Pinpoint and bulk electrochemical reduction of insulating silicon dioxide to silicon.

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Department of Fundamental Energy Science, Graduate School of Energy Science, Kyoto University, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan.


Silicon dioxide (SiO(2)) is conventionally reduced to silicon by carbothermal reduction, in which the oxygen is removed by a heterogeneous-homogeneous reaction sequence at approximately 1,700 degrees C. Here we report pinpoint and bulk electrochemical methods for removing oxygen from solid SiO(2) in a molten CaCl(2) electrolyte at 850 degrees C. This approach involves a 'contacting electrode', in which a metal wire supplies electrons to a selected region of the insulating SiO(2). Bulk reduction of SiO(2) is possible by increasing the number of contacting points. The same method was also demonstrated with molten LiCl-KCl-CaCl(2) at 500 degrees C. The novelty and relative simplicity of this method might lead to new processes in silicon semiconductor technology, as well as in high-purity silicon production. The methodology may be applicable to electrochemical processing of a wide variety of insulating materials, provided that the electrolyte dissolves the appropriate constituent ion(s) of the material.

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