Silicon carbide (SiC), also known as carborundum
/kɑːrbəˈrʌndəm/, is a semiconductor containing silicon and
carbon with chemical formula SiC. It occurs in nature as the extremely
rare mineral moissanite. Synthetic silicon carbide powder has been
mass-produced since 1893 for use as an abrasive. Grains of silicon
carbide can be bonded together by sintering to form very hard ceramics
that are widely used in applications requiring high endurance, such as
car brakes, car clutches and ceramic plates in bulletproof vests.
Electronic applications of silicon carbide such as light-emitting
diodes (LEDs) and detectors in early radios were first demonstrated
around 1907. SiC is used in semiconductor electronics devices that
operate at high temperatures or high voltages, or both. Large single
crystals of silicon carbide can be grown by the Lely method; they can
be cut into gems known as synthetic moissanite.
Silicon carbide with
high surface area can be produced from SiO2 contained in plant
1 Discovery and early production
1.1 Early experiments
1.2 Wide-scale production
2 Natural occurrence
4 Structure and properties
4.1 Electrical conductivity
Abrasive and cutting tools
5.2 Structural material
5.3 Automobile parts
5.3.1 Foundry crucibles
5.4 Electric systems
5.5 Electronic circuit elements
5.5.1 Power electronic devices
5.7 Thin filament pyrometry
5.8 Heating elements
Nuclear fuel particles
Nuclear fuel cladding
5.13 Catalyst support
5.14 Carborundum printmaking
5.16 Quantum physics
6 See also
8 External links
Discovery and early production
Non-systematic, less-recognized, and often unverified syntheses of
silicon carbide include
J. J. Berzelius's reduction of potassium fluorosilicate by potassium
César-Mansuète Despretz's passing an electric current through a
carbon rod embedded in sand (1849)
Robert Sydney Marsden's dissolution of silica in molten silver in a
graphite crucible (1881)
Paul Schuetzenberger's heating of a mixture of silicon and silica in a
graphite crucible (1881)
Albert Colson's heating of silicon under a stream of ethylene
A replication of H. J. Round's LED experiments
Wide-scale production is credited to
Edward Goodrich Acheson
Edward Goodrich Acheson in
1890. Acheson was attempting to prepare artificial diamonds when he
heated a mixture of clay (aluminium silicate) and powdered coke
(carbon) in an iron bowl. He called the blue crystals that formed
carborundum, believing it to be a new compound of carbon and
aluminium, similar to corundum. In 1893, Ferdinand Henri Moissan
discovered the very rare naturally occurring SiC mineral while
examining rock samples found in the
Canyon Diablo meteorite
Canyon Diablo meteorite in
Arizona. The mineral was named moissanite in his honor. Moissan also
synthesized SiC by several routes, including dissolution of carbon in
molten silicon, melting a mixture of calcium carbide and silica, and
by reducing silica with carbon in an electric furnace.
Acheson patented the method for making silicon carbide powder on
February 28, 1893. Acheson also developed the electric batch
furnace by which SiC is still made today and formed the Carborundum
Company to manufacture bulk SiC, initially for use as an abrasive.
In 1900 the company settled with the Electric Smelting and Aluminum
Company when a judge's decision gave "priority broadly" to its
founders "for reducing ores and other substances by the incandescent
method". It is said that Acheson was trying to dissolve carbon in
molten corundum (alumina) and discovered the presence of hard,
blue-black crystals which he believed to be a compound of carbon and
corundum: hence carborundum. It may be that he named the material
"carborundum" by analogy to corundum, which is another very hard
substance (9 on the Mohs scale).
The first use of SiC was as an abrasive. This was followed by
electronic applications. In the beginning of the 20th century, silicon
carbide was used as a detector in the first radios. In 1907 Henry
Joseph Round produced the first LED by applying a voltage to a SiC
crystal and observing yellow, green and orange emission at the
cathode. Those experiments were later repeated by O. V. Losev in the
Soviet Union in 1923.
Moissanite single crystal (≈1 mm in size)
Naturally occurring moissanite is found in only minute quantities in
certain types of meteorite and in corundum deposits and kimberlite.
Virtually all the silicon carbide sold in the world, including
moissanite jewels, is synthetic. Natural moissanite was first found in
1893 as a small component of the
Canyon Diablo meteorite
Canyon Diablo meteorite in
Dr. Ferdinand Henri Moissan, after whom the material was named in
1905. Moissan's discovery of naturally occurring SiC was initially
disputed because his sample may have been contaminated by silicon
carbide saw blades that were already on the market at that time.
While rare on Earth, silicon carbide is remarkably common in space. It
is a common form of stardust found around carbon-rich stars, and
examples of this stardust have been found in pristine condition in
primitive (unaltered) meteorites. The silicon carbide found in space
and in meteorites is almost exclusively the beta-polymorph. Analysis
of SiC grains found in the Murchison meteorite, a carbonaceous
chondrite meteorite, has revealed anomalous isotopic ratios of carbon
and silicon, indicating that these grains originated outside the solar
Because natural moissanite is extremely scarce, most silicon carbide
Silicon carbide is used as an abrasive, as well as a
semiconductor and diamond simulant of gem quality. The simplest
process to manufacture silicon carbide is to combine silica sand and
carbon in an Acheson graphite electric resistance furnace at a high
temperature, between 1,600 °C (2,910 °F) and
2,500 °C (4,530 °F). Fine SiO2 particles in plant material
(e.g. rice husks) can be converted to SiC by heating in the excess
carbon from the organic material. The silica fume, which is a
byproduct of producing silicon metal and ferrosilicon alloys, also can
be converted to SiC by heating with graphite at 1,500 °C
Synthetic SiC crystals ~3 mm in diameter
Synthetic SiC Lely crystals
The material formed in the Acheson furnace varies in purity, according
to its distance from the graphite resistor heat source. Colorless,
pale yellow and green crystals have the highest purity and are found
closest to the resistor. The color changes to blue and black at
greater distance from the resistor, and these darker crystals are less
Nitrogen and aluminium are common impurities, and they affect
the electrical conductivity of SiC.
Pure silicon carbide can be made by the Lely process, in which SiC
powder is sublimated into high-temperature species of silicon, carbon,
silicon dicarbide (SiC2), and disilicon carbide (Si2C) in an argon gas
ambient at 2500 °C and redeposited into flake-like single
crystals, sized up to 2×2 cm, at a slightly colder
substrate. This process yields high-quality single crystals, mostly of
6H-SiC phase (because of high growth temperature). A modified Lely
process involving induction heating in graphite crucibles yields even
larger single crystals of 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter,
having a section 81 times larger compared to the conventional Lely
process. Cubic SiC is usually grown by the more expensive process
of chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Homoepitaxial and
heteroepitaxial SiC layers can be grown employing both gas and liquid
phase approaches. Pure silicon carbide can also be prepared by the
thermal decomposition of a polymer, poly(methylsilyne), under an inert
atmosphere at low temperatures. Relative to the CVD process, the
pyrolysis method is advantageous because the polymer can be formed
into various shapes prior to thermalization into the
Structure and properties
Main article: Polymorphs of silicon carbide
Structure of major SiC polytypes.
Silicon carbide exists in about 250 crystalline forms. The
polymorphism of SiC is characterized by a large family of similar
crystalline structures called polytypes. They are variations of the
same chemical compound that are identical in two dimensions and differ
in the third. Thus, they can be viewed as layers stacked in a certain
Alpha silicon carbide (α-SiC) is the most commonly encountered
polymorph; it is formed at temperatures greater than 1700 °C and
has a hexagonal crystal structure (similar to Wurtzite). The beta
modification (β-SiC), with a zinc blende crystal structure (similar
to diamond), is formed at temperatures below 1700 °C. Until
recently, the beta form has had relatively few commercial uses,
although there is now increasing interest in its use as a support for
heterogeneous catalysts, owing to its higher surface area compared to
the alpha form.
Properties of major SiC polytypes
Zinc blende (cubic)
Lattice constants (Å)
Bulk modulus (GPa)
Thermal conductivity (W m−1K−1)
@ 300K (see  for temp. dependence)
Pure SiC is colorless. The brown to black color of the industrial
product results from iron impurities. The
rainbow-like luster of the crystals is caused by a passivation layer
of silicon dioxide that forms on the surface.
The high sublimation temperature of SiC (approximately 2700 °C)
makes it useful for bearings and furnace parts.
Silicon carbide does
not melt at any known temperature. It is also highly inert chemically.
There is currently much interest in its use as a semiconductor
material in electronics, where its high thermal conductivity, high
electric field breakdown strength and high maximum current density
make it more promising than silicon for high-powered devices. SiC
also has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion (4.0 × 10−6/K)
and experiences no phase transitions that would cause discontinuities
in thermal expansion.
Silicon carbide is a semiconductor, which can be doped n-type by
nitrogen or phosphorus and p-type by beryllium, boron, aluminium, or
gallium. Metallic conductivity has been achieved by heavy doping
with boron, aluminium or nitrogen.
Superconductivity has been detected in 3C-SiC:Al, 3C-SiC:B and
6H-SiC:B at the same temperature of 1.5 K. A crucial
difference is however observed for the magnetic field behavior between
aluminium and boron doping: SiC:Al is type-II, same as Si:B. On the
contrary, SiC:B is type-I. In attempt to explain this difference, it
was noted that Si sites are more important than carbon sites for
superconductivity in SiC. Whereas boron substitutes carbon in SiC, Al
substitutes Si sites. Therefore, Al and B "see" different environments
that might explain different properties of SiC:Al and SiC:B.
Abrasive and cutting tools
Cutting disks made of SiC
In the arts, silicon carbide is a popular abrasive in modern lapidary
due to the durability and low cost of the material. In manufacturing,
it is used for its hardness in abrasive machining processes such as
grinding, honing, water-jet cutting and sandblasting. Particles of
silicon carbide are laminated to paper to create sandpapers and the
grip tape on skateboards.
In 1982 an exceptionally strong composite of aluminium oxide and
silicon carbide whiskers was discovered. Development of this
laboratory-produced composite to a commercial product took only three
years. In 1985, the first commercial cutting tools made from this
alumina and silicon carbide whisker-reinforced composite were
introduced to the market.
Silicon carbide is used for trauma plates of ballistic vests
In the 1980s and 1990s, silicon carbide was studied in several
research programs for high-temperature gas turbines in Europe, Japan
and the United States. The components were intended to replace nickel
superalloy turbine blades or nozzle vanes. However, none of these
projects resulted in a production quantity, mainly because of its low
impact resistance and its low fracture toughness.
Like other hard ceramics (namely alumina and boron carbide), silicon
carbide is used in composite armor (e.g. Chobham armor), and in
ceramic plates in bulletproof vests. Dragon Skin, which was produced
by Pinnacle Armor, used disks of silicon carbide.
Silicon carbide is used as a support and shelving material in high
temperature kilns such as for firing ceramics, glass fusing, or glass
casting. SiC kiln shelves are considerably lighter and more durable
than traditional alumina shelves.
In December 2015, infusion of silicon carbide nano-particles in molten
magnesium was mentioned as a way to produce a new strong and plastic
alloy suitable for use in aeronautics, aerospace, automobile and
The Porsche Carrera GT's carbon-ceramic (silicon carbide) disc brake
Silicon-infiltrated carbon-carbon composite is used for high
performance "ceramic" brake discs, as it is able to withstand extreme
temperatures. The silicon reacts with the graphite in the
carbon-carbon composite to become carbon-fiber-reinforced silicon
carbide (C/SiC). These discs are used on some road-going sports cars,
supercars, as well as other performance cars including the Porsche
Carrera GT, the Bugatti Veyron, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Bentleys,
Ferraris, Lamborghinis, some specific high performance Audis, and the
Silicon carbide is also used in a sintered form for
diesel particulate filters. SiC is also used as an oil additive to
reduce friction, emissions, and harmonics.
SiC is used in crucibles for holding melting metal in small and large
The earliest electrical application of SiC was in lightning arresters
in electric power systems. These devices must exhibit high resistance
until the voltage across them reaches a certain threshold VT at which
point their resistance must drop to a lower level and maintain this
level until the applied voltage drops below VT.
It was recognized early on that SiC had such a voltage-dependent
resistance, and so columns of SiC pellets were connected between
high-voltage power lines and the earth. When a lightning strike to the
line raises the line voltage sufficiently, the SiC column will
conduct, allowing strike current to pass harmlessly to the earth
instead of along the power line. Such SiC columns proved to conduct
significantly at normal power-line operating voltages and thus had to
be placed in series with a spark gap. This spark gap is ionized and
rendered conductive when lightning raises the voltage of the power
line conductor, thus effectively connecting the SiC column between the
power conductor and the earth. Spark gaps used in lightning arresters
are unreliable, either failing to strike an arc when needed or failing
to turn off afterwards, in the latter case due to material failure or
contamination by dust or salt. Usage of SiC columns was originally
intended to eliminate the need for the spark gap in a lightning
arrester. Gapped SiC lightning arresters were used as
lightning-protection tool and sold under GE and Westinghouse brand
names, among others. The gapped SiC arrester has been largely
displaced by no-gap varistors that use columns of zinc oxide
Electronic circuit elements
Silicon carbide was the first commercially important semiconductor
material. A crystal radio "carborundum" (synthetic silicon carbide)
detector diode was patented by
Henry Harrison Chase Dunwoody
Henry Harrison Chase Dunwoody in 1906.
It found much early use in shipboard receivers.
Power electronic devices
Silicon carbide is a semiconductor in research and early mass
production providing advantages for fast, high-temperature and/or
high-voltage devices. The first devices available were Schottky
diodes, followed by junction-gate FETs and MOSFETs for high-power
switching. Bipolar transistors and thyristors are currently
developed. A major problem for SiC commercialization has been the
elimination of defects: edge dislocations, screw dislocations (both
hollow and closed core), triangular defects and basal plane
dislocations. As a result, devices made of SiC crystals initially
displayed poor reverse blocking performance though researchers have
been tentatively finding solutions to improve the breakdown
performance. Apart from crystal quality, problems with the
interface of SiC with silicon dioxide have hampered the development of
SiC-based power MOSFETs and insulated-gate bipolar transistors.
Although the mechanism is still unclear, nitridation has dramatically
reduced the defects causing the interface problems. In 2008, the
first commercial JFETs rated at 1200 V were introduced to the
market, followed in 2011 by the first commercial MOSFETs rated at
1200 V. Beside SiC switches and SiC Schottky diodes (also Schottky
barrier diode, SBD) in the popular TO-247 and
companies started even earlier to implement the bare chips into their
power electronic modules. SiC SBD diodes found wide market spread
being used in PFC circuits and
IGBT power modules. Conferences
such as the International Conference on Integrated Power Electronics
Systems (CIPS) report regularly about the technological progress of
SiC power devices. Major challenges for fully unleashing the
capabilities of SiC power devices are:
Gate drive: SiC devices often require gate drive voltage levels that
are different from their silicon counterparts and may be even
unsymmetric, for example, +20 V and −5 V.
Packaging: SiC chips may have a higher power density than silicon
power devices and are able to handle higher temperatures exceeding the
silicon limit of 150 °C. New die attach technologies such as
sintering are required to efficiently get the heat out of the devices
and ensure a reliable interconnection.
The phenomenon of electroluminescence was discovered in 1907 using
silicon carbide and the first commercial LEDs were again based on SiC.
Yellow LEDs made from 3C-SiC were manufactured in the
Soviet Union in
the 1970s and blue LEDs (6H-SiC) worldwide in the 1980s. The
production was soon stopped because gallium nitride showed 10–100
times brighter emission. This difference in efficiency is due to the
unfavorable indirect bandgap of SiC, whereas GaN has a direct bandgap
which favors light emission. However, SiC is still one of the
important LED components – it is a popular substrate for growing GaN
devices, and it also serves as a heat spreader in high-power LEDs.
The low thermal expansion coefficient, high hardness, rigidity and
thermal conductivity make silicon carbide a desirable mirror material
for astronomical telescopes. The growth technology (chemical vapor
deposition) has been scaled up to produce disks of polycrystalline
silicon carbide up to 3.5 m (11 ft) in diameter, and several
telescopes like the
Herschel Space Telescope
Herschel Space Telescope are already equipped with
SiC optics, as well the Gaia space observatory spacecraft
subsystems are mounted on a rigid silicon carbide frame, which
provides a stable structure that will not expand or contract due to
Thin filament pyrometry
Main article: Thin filament pyrometry
Image of the test flame and glowing SiC fibers. The flame is about
7 cm (2.8 in) tall.
Silicon carbide fibers are used to measure gas temperatures in an
optical technique called thin filament pyrometry. It involves the
placement of a thin filament in a hot gas stream. Radiative emissions
from the filament can be correlated with filament temperature.
Filaments are SiC fibers with a diameter of 15 micrometers, about one
fifth that of a human hair. Because the fibers are so thin, they do
little to disturb the flame and their temperature remains close to
that of the local gas. Temperatures of about 800–2500 K can be
References to silicon carbide heating elements exist from the early
20th century when they were produced by Acheson's Carborundum Co. in
the U.S. and EKL in Berlin.
Silicon carbide offered increased
operating temperatures compared with metallic heaters.
elements are used today in the melting of glass and non-ferrous metal,
heat treatment of metals, float glass production, production of
ceramics and electronics components, igniters in pilot lights for gas
Nuclear fuel particles
Silicon carbide is an important material in TRISO-coated fuel
particles, the type of nuclear fuel found in high temperature gas
cooled reactors such as the Pebble Bed Reactor. A layer of silicon
carbide gives coated fuel particles structural support and is the main
diffusion barrier to the release of fission products.
Nuclear fuel cladding
Silicon carbide composite material has been investigated for use as a
Zircaloy cladding in light water reactors. The
composite consists of SiC fibers wrapped around a SiC inner layer and
surrounded by an SiC outer layer. Problems have been reported with
the ability to join the pieces of the SiC composite.
A moissanite engagement ring
As a gemstone used in jewelry, silicon carbide is called "synthetic
moissanite" or just "moissanite" after the mineral name.
similar to diamond in several important respects: it is transparent
and hard (9–9.5 on the Mohs scale, compared to 10 for diamond), with
a refractive index between 2.65 and 2.69 (compared to 2.42 for
Moissanite is somewhat harder than common cubic zirconia.
Unlike diamond, moissanite can be strongly birefringent. For this
reason, moissanite jewels are cut along the optic axis of the crystal
to minimize birefringent effects. It is lighter (density 3.21 g/cm3
vs. 3.53 g/cm3), and much more resistant to heat than diamond. This
results in a stone of higher luster, sharper facets and good
resilience. Loose moissanite stones may be placed directly into wax
ring moulds for lost-wax casting, as can diamond, as moissanite
remains undamaged by temperatures up to 1800 °C.
become popular as a diamond substitute, and may be misidentified as
diamond, since its thermal conductivity is closer to diamond than any
other substitute. Many thermal diamond-testing devices cannot
distinguish moissanite from diamond, but the gem is distinct in its
birefringence and a very slight green or yellow fluorescence under
ultraviolet light. Some moissanite stones also have curved,
string-like inclusions, which diamonds never have.
Piece of silicon carbide used in steel making
Silicon carbide, dissolved in a basic oxygen furnace used for making
steel, acts as a fuel. The additional energy liberated allows the
furnace to process more scrap with the same charge of hot metal. It
can also be used to raise tap temperatures and adjust the carbon and
Silicon carbide is cheaper than a combination of
ferrosilicon and carbon, produces cleaner steel and lower emissions
due to low levels of trace elements, has a low gas content, and does
not lower the temperature of steel.
The natural resistance to oxidation exhibited by silicon carbide, as
well as the discovery of new ways to synthesize the cubic β-SiC form,
with its larger surface area, has led to significant interest in its
use as a heterogeneous catalyst support. This form has already been
employed as a catalyst support for the oxidation of hydrocarbons, such
as n-butane, to maleic anhydride.
Silicon carbide is used in carborundum printmaking – a collagraph
printmaking technique. Carborundum grit is applied in a paste to the
surface of an aluminium plate. When the paste is dry, ink is applied
and trapped in its granular surface, then wiped from the bare areas of
the plate. The ink plate is then printed onto paper in a rolling-bed
press used for intaglio printmaking. The result is a print of painted
marks embossed into the paper.
Silicon carbide is used to produce epitaxial graphene by
graphitization at high temperatures. This is considered as one of the
promising methods to synthesize graphene at large scale for practical
Silicon carbide can host point defects in the crystal lattice known as
color centers. These defects can produce single photons on demand and
thus serve as a platform for single-photon source. Such device is a
fundamental resource for many emerging applications of the quantum
information science. If one pumps a color center via an external
optical source or electrical current, the color center will be brought
to the excited state and will then relax with the emission of one
Reaction bonded silicon carbide
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