Industrial Process Pollution Reduction by Development of Amorphous Biogenic Silica to Replace Fumed SilicaEPA Contract Number: EPD15024
Title: Industrial Process Pollution Reduction by Development of Amorphous Biogenic Silica to Replace Fumed Silica
Investigators: Chen, Haoran
Small Business: SioTeX Corporation
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through February 29, 2016
Project Amount: $99,756
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2015) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Air and Climate
Fumed silica is an important additive in many products, including paints, plastics and tires, and is a $1.5 billion market with a 6 percent growth rate. However, fumed silica producers rely on an energy- intensive, costly and hazardous process. The air pollution resulting from the energy utilized to produce fumed silica is a combination of carbon emissions from the production of raw materials, energy generation and overseas transportation, as well as corrosive hydrogen chloride gas from the process. SioTeX, a specialty chemical and performance materials manufacturer, has developed a drop-in replacement for fumed silica. The patent pending technology uses rice hulls, an abundant biowaste, as the raw material. Biogenic silica is recovered from the rice hull and structured to meet the performance specifications of fumed silica. The process is simpler than the conventional method, consumes substantially less energy, and involves fewer toxic reactants. Every year, millions of tons of rice hulls are discarded to deteriorate in landfills, resulting in high levels of methane emissions. Field burning of biowaste rice hulls contributes to poor air quality by releasing fine particulates and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This technology won the 2012 EPA People, Prosperity & Planet Award for providing an innovative, cutting-edge solution to a worldwide environmental problem. Prospective investors and commercial partners of SioTeX include large consumers and manufacturers of specialty chemicals.
Preliminary research shows that biogenic silica harvested from rice hulls is comparable to fumed silica in terms of surface area, particle size and physical appearance. These properties are the three most important criteria regarding fumed silica applications. SioTeX was formed through the Materials Science, Engineering & Commercialization Program at Texas State University and has close connections with university research laboratories. This network provides strong support for SioTeX to expand its intellectual property. The base technological process is licensed from Texas State (US20140057108). Two additional utility patents (US61940789 and US61942895) have been filed by the company. SioTeX will strengthen its intellectual property status by developing trade secrets and filing additional patents.
The widespread environmental benefits for transforming the silica industry from conventional methods to SioTeX’s innovative method will be:
- The reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning to generate the energy utilized in the current process to form the starting materials.
- The elimination of hydrogen chloride gas in the process, which is highly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- The reduction of methane released in the landfilling of underutilized rice hull wastes.
The problem is evidenced by the fact that large fumed silica manufacturers have moved out of the United States due to pollution regulations. Overseas manufacturing creates a larger carbon footprint and results in additional reliance on fossil fuels.
Buyers are willing to adopt the technology if it is commercialized, because the amorphous biogenic silica is produced using rice hulls, an abundant, low cost and renewable raw material. Annual production of millions of tons of rice hulls provides a solid and inexpensive raw material source. SioTeX also uses efficient manufacturing processes that increase reproducibility and consume less energy. The ecofriendly production method decreases pollution, thereby reducing cost and liability associated with environmental regulations. A recent poll in Paint & Coatings Industry Magazine reported that 80 percent of paint manufacturers consider sustainability to be indispensable or very important when it comes to the manufacturing choices that they make. SioTeX will provide these manufacturers with a green alternative to traditional fumed silica products and decrease their dependence on petrochemicals. Biogenic silica also provides improved material handling because of its higher bulk density. This feature reduces packaging, shipping and storage costs without sacrificing performance.
To replace and outperform currently used technologies, biogenic silica will be used as a performance enhancement additive for many products. In the paint industry, it will be an important strengthener, viscosity modifier, and pigment extender. The properties of biogenic silica from rice hulls comply with the international industrial standard ISO 3262-20 for fumed silica in paints. It also will improve the properties of tires and plastics. SioTeX is scaling the manufacturing process to meet production demands. Standard equipment and unit processes will be used in scaled production, which support the development of the technology.