Turning Sand into fuel - Silicone oil as an energy carrier

Categories: Energy


Dr Peter Plichta, a maverick in chemistry and physics, has discovered a way to make sand into a fuel. It’s a bit more complex, really, but in short, the silicon in sand can be refined, and combined with hydrogen, thus making hydrosilicons, or silanes. Initially, these molecules were not thought of as a good candidate for fuel, but Dr. Plichta has devised a way to make longer-chain version, that look and feel like oil. The most interesting aspect of this molecule as a fuel, is that it will react with not only oxygen, but also atmospheric nitrogen, making a very hot release of energy—an ideal fuel

Dr Peter Plichta studied chemistry, physics and nuclear chemistry in Cologne, Germany. He obtained his doctorate in chemistry in 1970, and in the years following he did much research, on the subject of silanes. Similar to hydrocarbons, silanes are hydrosilicons, molecules that incorporate atoms of both silicon and hydrogen.

Plichta also studied law, and in the 1980s he studied and researched logics, numbers theory and mathematics. As a result, he published several books outlining a new theory on prime numbers in German. In this article however, I will only discuss his proposal to use silanes as a highly energetic fuel.

Silicon is more abundant than carbon. It oxidizes or combines with oxygen into silicon dioxide, which forms crystals present in rocks like quartz, basalt and granite. Silicon dioxide is especially prevalent in sand which fills deserts and sea shores. We process silicon dioxide into glass and purify the silicon for use in electronics. Both of those processes require much external energy input.

Before the 1970s, silanes were considered unsuitable for use as fuels, because they instantaneously self-combust at room temperature. Not satisfied to leave it at that however, Plichta went to work and succeeded in producing longer-chained silanes that appeared as clear, oily liquids and were stable at room temperature. He argues that these higher (long-chain) silanes could be used as an abundant fuel as an alternative to both hydrocarbons and pure hydrogen.

Unlike hydrocarbons, silanes use both the nitrogen and the oxygen in air for combustion. While the hydrogen component of silanes reacts with oxygen, the silicon oxidizes in a highly energetic reaction with nitrogen. So the burning of silanes produces much higher temperatures and frees more energy than the burning of hydrocarbon fuels. The silane reaction leaves no toxic residues.

Much of the information in this article comes from a recent description of Plichta's discoveries and his proposed silane fuel cycle written by Norbert Knobloch and published in the German magazine raum&zeit.


If you read German, you can see the original article in pdf format here.

Dr. Plichta's website, also in German, has much additional information. 

Peter Plichta's book "Benzin aus Sand" (Gasoline from Sand), first published in 2001, advocates a change in energy strategy away from burning hydrocarbons to using the energy potential of silanes or, as I would term them, hydrosilicates.


The book, so far only in German, is available from Amazon.

But let's get down to the nitty gritty details, to get a better idea what is being proposed and is being discussed, confidentially for now, with international investors.

Nitrogen oxidizes silicon

Silicon is the most abundant element in the earth's crust. Combined with hydrogen, silicon forms what in chemistry are known as "silanes". Given sufficient heat, silanes react with the nitrogen in the air. This is a new discovery. Nitrogen was thought to be inert, as far as combustion is concerned. So we obviously must re-think the possibilities of combustion. Silicon makes up 25% of the earth's crust, while nitrogen makes up 80% of air. A process that uses silicon/nitrogen combustion in addition to the known carbon/oxygen cycle, presages some mind boggling new possibilities.

While carbon is also a relatively abundant element, its prevalence is way lower than that of silicon. The relation is about a hundred to one. In addition, most of the available carbon is bound up in carbonaceous minerals such as marble and other carbon-based rocks and some of it is in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Those forms are not available for use in the combustion cycle. Only one in about a hundred thousand carbon molecules is bound to hydrogen, making it available for the purpose of combustion. So while carbon has served us well for the first century and a half of industrialization, it is a rather limited fuel.

Using 100% of air for combustion

Plichta's idea was to exchange chains of carbon atoms in hydrocarbons for chains of silicon in hydrosilicons or silanes. The long chained "higher silanes" are those with five or more silicon atoms in each molecule. They are of oily consistency and they give off their energy in a very fast, highly energetic combustion.

While hydrocarbon-based gasoline only uses oxygen, which makes up 20% of air, for their combustion, the hydrosilicon-based silanes also use nitrogen, which makes up the other 80% of air, when they burn. Silanes with chains of seven or more atoms of silicon per molecule are stable and can be pumped and stored very much like gasoline and other carbon-based liquid fuels.

The efficiency of combustion depends on the amount of heat that is created. Expanding gases drive pistons or turbines. When hydrocarbons are burned with air as the oxidant, efficiency of combustion is limited by the fact that the 20% of air that partakes in the combustion also has to heat up the nitrogen gas, which isn't participating but has to be expanded as well. When burning silanes, practically all of the air participates directly in the combustion cycle, making for a much more efficient expansion of all the gases involved.

Burning silanes

The combustion process of hydrosilicons is fundamentally different from the exclusively oxygen based combustion we know from burning hydrocarbons. In a sufficiently hot reaction chamber, silanes separate into atoms of hydrogen and silicon, which immediately mix with the oxygen and nitrogen of the air. The hydrogen from the silanes and the air's oxygen now burn completely leaving only water vapor, bringing the temperature of the gases close to 2000 degrees C.

Since there is no more oxygen, no silicon oxide can be formed in the following phase. What happens instead is an extremely energetic reaction of the 80% nitrogen in the air with the silicon atoms present, that forms a fine powder called silicon nitride (Si3N4).

For those more technically inclined, taking the example of hexasilane (Si6H14), here is what the reaction would look like:

• 2 Si6H14 + 7 O2 + 8 N2 -> 4 Si3N4 + 14 H2O

After this first reaction, a great deal of unreacted nitrogen is still in the combustion gases, which would now react in a stochiometric combustion as follows:

• 4 1/2 Si6H14 + 18 N2 -> 9 Si3N4 + 63 H

Overall, on the input side of the equation we would have:

• 6 1/2 Si6 H14 + 7 O2 + 26 N2

and on the output side, we get:

• 14 H2O + 13 Si3N4 + 63 H

The silicon nitride we find in the "exhaust" is the only known noble gas that exists in solid form, an original discovery by Peter Plichta. That white powdery stuff is a rather valuable raw material for ceramics.

Wikipedia says that silicon nitride powder will form

"... a hard ceramic having high strength over a broad temperature range, moderate thermal conductivity, low coefficient of thermal expansion, moderately high elastic modulus, and unusually high fracture toughness for a ceramic. This combination of properties leads to excellent thermal shock resistance, ability to withstand high structural loads to high temperature, and superior wear resistance. Silicon nitride is mostly used in high-endurance and high-temperature applications, such as gas turbines, car engine parts, bearings and metal working and cutting tools. Silicon nitride bearings are used in the main engines of the NASA's Space shuttles." 
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