Quartz has been exploited by humans since prehistoric times. The Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder contemplated clear quartz and argued it must be a form of petrified ice, created over an immense length of time.
Given the limitations of Ancient science, Pliny’s assessment was noteworthy for at least recognising some kind of geological force had been at work.
His audience was curious because the material was prized for making beautiful vessels, jewels and pendants. It commanded high prices that only the noblest houses could afford.
Today, quartz in rock or sand plays a critical role in almost every facet of life, with a plethora of applications stretching from sandpaper to fertilisers, cement to speciality lenses.
But less well known among the general public is the role of high purity quartz.
High purity quartz sand comprises more than 99.995% silicon dioxide (SiO2), with the higher grades used to create crucibles needed by manufacturers in the semiconductor and solar photovoltaic (PV) industries.
It also plays a role in the manufacture of tubing for high-temperature lighting, while slightly lower grades are used in making parts like rods, wafer carriers and windows for semiconductor and solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers.
“Most people haven’t paid much attention to high purity quartz sand because they don’t look beyond silicon metal to the full supply chain necessary for solar PV manufacture,” HPQ Materials CEO Stuart Jones told Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.
“The high purity quartz sand used to make the crucible is every bit as critical as the need for polysilicon in the manufacture of solar PV and semiconductors. In short, no high purity sand means no solar PV and no semiconductors,” he added.
But the market lacks readily-available data or statistics on production, uptake or pricing points. It is opaque to say the least, lacking the quality most sought after in clear quartz by the Romans: transparency.