An Australian firm is gearing up to launch a process for turning rice husk and other plant waste into silica — one of the key components in computer chips.
Leaf Resources, an ASX-listed firm based in Queensland, has lodged a patent application for its process, which it says will allow it to tap into the $US300 billion ($408bn) microchip industry.
Leaf Resources managing director Ken Richards.
“The United States Academy of Sciences said the industrialisation of biology will be as powerful for economic growth in the next 50 years as semiconductors were in the last 50 years,” Leaf Resources managing director Ken Richards told The Australian.
He said his method extracted the innate silica within plant waste and could also be used for alloys, optics, pharmaceuticals, insecticides and reinforcing agents for products, as well as computer chips.
“We were looking at rice husk as a potential form of plant waste for our other process which creates the industrial sugars used in bio plastics and other renewable chemicals,” he said.
“We knew it had silica in it and wondered if there was any way we could extract it for commercial use.
“We presented the problem to Les Edye, Leaf’s head of R&D and a former professor of chemistry at QUT, and he came up with a solution that not only extracted the silica, but created a fertiliser as a byproduct and also allowed us to turn the rest of the plant waste into industrial sugars for our flagship process.”
According to Mr Richards, the process costs Leaf $47 per tonne, where it typically costs $151 per tonne. They won a GreenTech award for their efforts in 2014.
Mr Richards said Leaf’s form of cheap sugar was the missing piece of the puzzle for creating affordable bioplastics, which have long been mooted as the replacement for petroleum-based plastics, but the high cost of the process has stopped them from being an economically viable alternative.
“Asia produces 770 tonnes of rice husk every year. We’d have no shortage material for our process,” he said.
“Depending on how far we roll out our process, it could end up reducing the overall cost of silica by increasing its supply. It would be a stretch to say that this would reduce the manufacturing costs of electronics, but it’s a possibility.”
By The Australian.