Mineral Resource of the Month: Silicon

by USGS Mineral Commodities Team
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Silicon may be the second-most abundant element on the planet, but it's rarely found alone in nature; instead it is usually found in silicate minerals or oxide minerals such as quartz, shown here. Credit: ©StoneTrust, Inc./ESW Image Bank.

by Emily Schnebele, USGS mineral commodity specialist



Almost 30 percent of Earth’s crust consists of silicon, the second-most abundant element on Earth following oxygen. Silicon is rarely found free in nature; it combines with oxygen and other elements to form silicate minerals. These silicate minerals compose more than 90 percent of Earth’s crust. Silicates are the largest class of rock-forming minerals on Earth. Silicon dioxide, or silica, typically takes the form of quartz, the most common component of sand. Silicon is also the seventh-most abundant element in the universe.


Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.


Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.



Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.


Credit: K. Cantner, AGI.

Silicon is probably best known for its use in computer chips, but the electronics industry only accounts for about 5 percent of silicon usage in the U.S. Credit: Digital Vision.


Silicon is a light chemical element with metallic and nonmetallic characteristics. Silica, as quartz or quartzite, is used to produce silicon ferroalloys for the iron and steel industries and silicon metal for the aluminum and chemical industries. Silicon metal, a common commercial term to describe metallurgical-grade silicon, may be further processed into ultra-high-purity semiconductor or solar grades; these contain 99.9 percent or greater silicon. As an industrial sand or gravel, silica is also used in abrasives, glassmaking and hydraulic fracturing.


Silicon Valley got its name from the silicon used in computer chips.

Opal is a noncrystalline, hydrated silicon dioxide with a water content between 3 and 30 percent.

Silicon’s name derives from the Latin words “silex” and “silicis,” meaning flint, and was first isolated by J√∂ns Jacob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist, in 1824.

Visit minerals.usgs.gov/minerals for more information

design by K. Cantner and N. Schmidgall, AGI

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