Breaking Down Silicone: A Comprehensive Overview
Updated: Mar 28
We are all aware of the devastating effect plastic has on our environment. So we are looking for alternatives. In clothing, polyester can be replaced by cotton or bamboo and your plastic kitchen tools can often be replaced with wood. But not every plastic item can easily be replaced with a sustainable alternative. Especially when you want something to remain flexible. Therefore, silicone has often been mentioned as a sustainable alternative to plastic but is this true? Let's take a closer look.
How is silicone made?
Silicone is a polymer made up of siloxane creating polysiloxane. Most of the time these are colorless rubber or oils-like substances. They have a multitude of uses including; sealants, adhesives, lubricants, medicine, cooking utensils, thermal insulation, and electrical insulation. They also come in lots of different forms like silicone oil, silicone grease, silicone rubber, silicone resin, and silicone caulk.
The first step in making silicone is by isolating silicon from silica. This is done by heating a large amount of quartz sand to 1800˚C. The result is pure, isolated silicon. After cooling, this is ground into powder. Methyl chloride is added to the powder and the mixture is heated again forming methyl chlorosilane. As the latter is a mixture of several components, these need to be separated to extract silicone. Using a distillation method, polydimethylsiloxane is isolated which is the main component of silicone.