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Chemistry helps

A good connection

The coronavirus crisis has achieved what would once have been inconceivable: Millions of people are now working from home. Even if many restrictions have since eased, modern work environments and working outside of the office are not going away. At the heart of this development are fast, stable internet connections. Glass fibers are what make that possible - and Evonik supplies an important raw material.

Whereas just 4 percent of employees worked primarily from home before the crisis, that number jumped to 27 percent in April according to the Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI) at the Hans Böckler Foundation, which has close ties to the trade union movement.

The need for video conferences and fast data exchange with their companies make many employees dependent on a fast, stable internet connection. Strands of glass fiber make that possible, connecting homes, businesses, and public institutions to each other and to the rest of the world. Individual fibers are a fraction of a millimeter in diameter, yet can transmit information at the speed of light and across long distances with no major loss in performance.

The only way that can work, however, is if the material that goes into the fibers is as pure as humanly possible. And this is where Evonik comes into play: several of the company’s sites produce an ultrapure tetrachlorosilane under the brand name Siridion®. This material is prepared from what is known as metallurgical-grade silicon, which still contains many impurities. It is then reacted with hydrogen chloride, purified, and then processed further to produce ultrapure Siridion® STC HP.

Glass fiber manufacturers use this highly pure tetrachlorosilane to produce quartz glass ingots, which are heated to over 2000°C and drawn to form glass fibers. To cool the fibers quickly, they are often flushed with helium gas, which accelerates the production process to the point that a single plant can produce over two kilometers of fiber per minute.

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