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Boron trichloride (BCL3) is a colorless, toxic, yet nonflammable gas commonly used in the microchip manufacturing industry through ion implantation to dope semiconductor grade silicon (SGS). The SGS starts out as a pure insulator and becomes a p-type semiconductor with the addition of boron atoms to the silicon substrate. Another name for boron trichloride in manufacturing is trichloroborane, and it is a key component of an estimated $200 million US Dollars (USD) gas industry as of 2002 in the United States that is rapidly growing and services the semiconductor market.
Other industrial applications for boron trichloride include in the refining of many metals, such as aluminum, magnesium, and zinc. It is also compatible with certain plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used in plumbing and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) used in the manufacture of non-stick surfaces for cookware. The compound is also used as a chemical in plasma etching of metals, such as stainless steel, copper alloys, and tungsten.
Emerging markets for the compound include in the manufacture of rocket fuel and as a catalyst in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Boron itself has antibacterial qualities, and, as of 2006, boron trichloride has been seen as a potential key ingredient in the manufacture of treatments for Alzheimer's disease. Fibers have been made from boron nitride compounds using boron trichloride, which are made into reinforcing fabric for aircraft such as the structural beam components in the US B-1 bomber military plane. These fibers are further being adapted to composite structures in high performance automobiles and optical data transmission uses.
Since boron trichloride hydrolyzes upon exposure to moisture in air or contact with water, it poses health risks if not carefully sealed in transport containers. Any exposure to moisture in the container will cause a build-up of hydrogen chloride gas and lead to an explosion and surrounding air contamination. The chemical compound poses exposure risks when combining with moisture to form hydrogen chloride, a caustic form of hydrochloric acid harmful to the lungs, mucous membranes, and skin, so it is shipped in liquid form and handled cautiously.
By contrast, boron trichloride has potential health benefits. It is used in research involving nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, a field of study in structural biology. This is due to the fact that BCL3 is a starter or precursor chemical used to create elemental boron. One of the two naturally forming isotopes of boron — boron-10 — has a unique ability to capture low energy neutrons. Both boron-10 and boron-11 are essential isotopes of the element used in the process of NMR.