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Process could help to turn 80 million tons of trash into a valuable commodity

Rice is a staple crop of much of the world, but it's also a big waste generator.  On average 20 percent of rice by weight is discarded.  These dry, inedible husks are estimated to account for 80 million metric tons a year (out of a current annual rice yield of 422 million metric tons).

Tough and abrasive, the husks (also known as hulls) could only be used in low-cost materials such as fertilizer additives or bed soil.  But South Korean researchers think they've devised a way to cut down on the amount of agricultural waste from rice farming, by transforming the husks into a more expensive finished product.

A team at the Chungnam National University has extracted silica from the silicon-rich husks to convert into silicon for battery anodes.  

While nearly identical to sand from a molecular standpoint, rice silicon is deposited by the plant in porous nanolayers as a defense against insects and fungi.  That means that to extract the valuable material, researchers had to use a multi-step process involving acid and heat treatment.

Rice Hulls
Rice hulls can make great anodes, with a bit of TLC, it turns out [Image Source: Melvin Pereira]

However, the process appears to pay off, yielding high-grade electronics ready silicon.  The resulting yield is reportedly especially desirable for battery anodes due to its electrochemical characteristics.

The research team has published [abstract] their processing breakthrough in the prestigious peer-review journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Sources: PNAS, Herald Sun News





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