Common Table Salt, Extraordinary Abilities
When thinking of common table salt, the term "extraordinary" doesn’t often come to mind. But recent discoveries show that the potential for table salt far exceed simply adding flavor to food. Chemists at Oregon State University found that simple sodium chloride, or table salt, has the ability to enable the commercial mass production of silicon nanostructures at significantly reduced costs.
Silicon nanostructures are materials that have the potential to be used in everything from electronics to biomedicine and energy storage. Silicon, the second most abundant element in Earth’s crust, is already widely used in electronics. However, silicon nanostructures, which are smaller than a speck of dust, have the potential to be used in photonics, biological imaging, sensors, drug delivery, thermoelectric materials that can convert heat into electricity, and energy storage. Until this recent discovery, current technologies used to make these materials were costly, and simpler technologies were not feasible because they required extremely high temperatures.
Through a simple, cost-effect process of melting and absorbing heat at a critical moment during a "magnesiothermic reaction", salt acts as a heat scavenger, preventing the collapse of the nanostructure that researchers are trying to create. The molten salt can then be washed away by dissolving it in water, where it can be recycled and used again.
With this process, the study also resulted in the creation of nanoporous composite materials of silicon and germanium, which have the potential to be used in semiconductors, thermoelectric materials, and electrochemical energy devices.
According to David Xiulei Ji, Assistant Professor of Chemistry in the OSU College of Science, "This could be what it takes to open up an important new industry. There are methods now to create silicon nanostructures, but they are vey costly and can only produce tiny amounts...This process should allow the production of high-quality silicon nanostructures in large quantities at low cost."
Furthermore, the use of sodium chloride did not affect the reaction in the creation of the nanostructures. Therefore, the simplicity and low cost of this reaction makes scaling up the reaction to larger commercial levels much more feasible.
Funding for the research was provided by OSU.
Read more at Oregon State University.
Common table salt image via Shutterstock.