A group of scientists and businessmen have come up with a unique Green technology that extracts saleable amorphous silica from rice husks.
Risilica, a fledging Moscow-based company that unites scientists and innovative businessmen, has recently solved an old scientific puzzle on how to produce saleable amorphous silica (used in construction, tire production and the pharmaceutical industry) from previously unusable rice wastes. Production will be developed in rice-growing countries, boosting local economies while solving a major problem with non-ecological waste.
The technology of incinerating rice husks and extracting amorphous silica has been patented by many of the world’s chemical companies since the 1920s. However, it only worked in laboratories. When it came to real technological conditions with high volumes, it has never been very successful. Creator of graphene and one of Russia’s most influential scientists, Risilica investor Aleksander Komarov sums up the breakthrough saying, “It took us almost three years, several scientists and seed capital from the Russian Venture Company to create a unique green chemistry technology that will allow us to significantly cut hazardous emissions from burning rice husks and contribute to the minimization of the greenhouse effect.”
RICE WASTE COMMERCIAL VIABILITY
To get a better perspective on the scope of this new technology, Komarov offers some simple data that was available to him (from a Russian point of view) that was the tipping factor on his decision to proceed. Russia’s annual rice yield is 1 million tons with husks accounting for 20 percent of the volume. It means that 200,000 tons of rice waste is left unutilized as it cannot be used for fodder or organic fertilizer because of the high concentration of silica. This is why rice husks combust, polluting the air with fine dust particles that are then deposited in the lungs of people, which causes silicosis.
At the same time, amorphous silica, which makes up over 20 percent of rice husks, is in high demand in various industries.
For example, tire makers use it to minimize rolling friction and make a vehicle safer and more eco-friendly as it consumes less fuel. The method proved successful and eco-friendly as they used only rice husks, deionized water, sulfuric acid for chemical cleaning, carbamide and air. The final product contained 99.99 percent pure amorphous silica. According to Komarov, Risilica’s product is three times cheaper than a similar product produced by large corporations. This cheaper production cost makes it extremely attractive to rice-producing countries that are not as financially robust, such as South Asia and Africa.
Tire makers and construction companies are among the first potential consumers and may be followed by the cosmetics industry and pharmaceutical firms. The founders of the project expect a return on their investment in 5-7 years and anticipate a 10 percent market share of amorphous silica.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, global production of rice, the majority of which is grown in Asia, totaled 746.4 million tons in 2013. This means that the volume of unused rice husks amounted to 150 million tons. The annual global market for amorphous silica is estimated at $6.4 billion, with the leading share of consumption coming from Asia.
The company will facilitate logistics by providing technological solutions and equipment that will in turn boost the machine building industry since all the equipment for rice husk pyrolysis is produced in Russia.
Still, this breakthrough opportunity is a significant step toward defining how Green Technology can be a true winning strategy.