So what is silicone exactly? And is it different from silicon?
Like any plastic polymer, silicones are synthetic and include a mix of chemical additives. The key differentiator from carbon-based plastics is that silicones have a backbone made of silicon. I know, confusing! It’s important to get the terminology right here, so let’s dive in:
When people say silicones are made of sand, they are not incorrect, though that’s too simplistic a description. Silica—or silicon dioxide—is what they are referring to. Silica is the raw material used to make silicone resins. Beach sand is practically pure silica, as is quartz.
This is the base element that makes up silica, but silicon is not generally found in nature in this elemental form. It is made by heating silica at very high temperatures with carbon in an industrial furnace.
The silicone is then reacted with fossil fuel-derived hydrocarbons to create siloxane monomers that are bonded together into polymers to form the final silicone resin. The quality of these silicones can vary greatly depending on the level of purification. For example, the silicones used to make computer chips are highly purified.