What Is Silica Fiber?

Liz Thomas

Silica fiber is a long thin thread made of sodium silicate. It has many aerospace, electrical and automotive applications due to its high heat resistance. These threads are also used as optical fibers for long distance telecommunications, sensors and fiber optic medical instruments.

In its pure form, sodium silicate, which is used to make silica fibers, is a white powder.
In its pure form, sodium silicate, which is used to make silica fibers, is a white powder.

The thread or strand is actually made of sodium silicate, also known as water glass. In its pure form, it appears as a white powder. It is very stable and through a process of melting and brushing is formed into a series of thin strings or fibers.

Silica fiber blankets were used on space shuttles as part of the thermal protection system.
Silica fiber blankets were used on space shuttles as part of the thermal protection system.

Silica fiber offers heat protection and is commonly used in compensators and packing. Compensators refer to mechanisms that counterbalance motion, such as muzzle brakes on firearms and piston pump pressure control. The silica product is also a substitution for asbestos packing. The strands do not react with most mineral and organic acids at high temperatures and have a high resistance to heat shock.

Endoscopes are made of bundles of silica fibers.
Endoscopes are made of bundles of silica fibers.

Material is woven of silica fiber or the threads are incorporated into other materials, typically used as insulation. Silica material is then used in electrical, automotive and aerospace applications. Protection made of this material can withstand temperatures of up to 1832 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 C) for very long periods or even higher temperatures of 3092 F (1700 C) for short periods of time.

Respirator masks can prevent people from inhaling silica fiber particles that cause health issues.
Respirator masks can prevent people from inhaling silica fiber particles that cause health issues.

The heat protection is so effective that silica fiber blankets are used on space shuttles as part of the thermal protection system. The threads are part of the advanced flexible reusable surface insulation. Use of silica fibers reduces the weight of the insulation and can deal with the heat load encountered upon re-entry.

Optical filaments are also made of silica fibers. The optical filament transmits light and is very thin, about as wide as a single strand of human hair. These filaments form the basics of fiber optics, which allow for transmission of data at higher data rates and over very long distances. These items are used frequently in telecommunications.

Other applications of fiber optics include imaging for surgical procedures, and as sensors. One surgical application is an endoscope. This tool is made up of bundles of silica fibers and is used to inspect the interior of the body.

The strand can be used to connect a sensor to a measurement system. In some cases the silica fiber is the sensor. No electrical power is necessary to run sensors made of this material. Due to the small size it can fit into hard to reach locations or those that are hazardous to humans.

Sodium silicate -- which is used to create silica fiber -- is used in laundry detergents.
Sodium silicate -- which is used to create silica fiber -- is used in laundry detergents.

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