In this chapter, basic properties and structure of rice husk; uses and application of rice
husk ash in various industries have been discussed.

Paddy rice (Oryza sativa) is grown on every continent except Antarctica and the
extent of paddy cultivation covers about 1 percent of the earth’s surface. More than
half of the world’s population depends on rice as a staple food and it ranks second to
wheat in terms of cultivation area and production. The quantum of global production
of paddy is close to 650 million tons per annum [www.maps of].
Production of rice is dominated by Asia, where rice is the only food crop that can be
grown during the rainy season in the waterlogged tropical areas. Asia generates over
90 percent of world rice production (Table 2.1). Together, China and India accounted
for over half of the world’s rice supply [www.maps of]. In India, Tamil
Nadu is the third ranking state in the production of paddy after Andhra Pradesh and
West Bengal. Paddy production is nearly 7 million tonnes in Tamil Nadu [www.maps

Paddy, on an average, consists of about 72 percent of rice, 5-8 percent of bran, and
20-22 percent of husk [Prasad et al., 2000]. Of all the plant residues, the ash of rice
husk contains the highest proportion of silica. It is estimated that every tonne of paddy
produces about 0.20 tonnes of husk and every tonne of husk produces about 0.18 to
0.20 tonnes of ash, depending on the variety, climatic conditions and geographical
location [Prasad et al., 2000 and Bouzoubaa and Fournier, 2001]. The total global ash
production could be as high as about 23 million tonnes per year (Table 2.1).

Rice husk is a potential material, which is amenable for value addition. The usage of
rice husk either in its raw form or in ash form is many. Most of the husk from the
milling is either burnt or dumped as waste in open fields and a small amount is used
as fuel for boilers, electricity generation, bulking agents for composting of animal
manure, etc [Bronzeoak, 2003; Asavapisit and Ruengrit, 2005].

The exterior of rice husk are composed of dentate rectangular elements, which
themselves are composed mostly of silica coated with a thick cuticle and surface
hairs. The mid region and inner epidermis contain little silica [Bronzeoak, 2003].
Jauberthie et al., (2000) confirmed that the presence of amorphous silica is
concentrated at the surfaces of the rice husk and not within the husk itself.

The chemical composition of rice husk is similar to that of many common organic
fibers and it contains of cellulose 40-50 percent, lignin 25-30 percent, ash 15-20
percent and moisture 8- 15 percent [Hwang and Chandra, 1997]. After burning, most
evaporable components are slowly lost and the silicates are left. The typical properties
of rice husk are indicated in Table 2.2. No other plant except paddy husk is able to
retain such a huge proportion of silica in it.

Plants absorb various minerals and silicates from earth into their body. Inorganic
materials, especially silicates are found in higher proportions in annually grown
plants, such as rice, wheat, sunflower, etc, than in long-lived trees. Inorganic materials
are found in the form of free salts and particles of cationic groups combined with the
anionic groups of fibres into the plants [Basha et al., 2005]. A combined study using
back scattered electron and X-ray images of the husk (Fig. 2.1) showed that the silica
is distributed mostly under the husk’s outer surface [Stroeven et al., 1999]. This

confirms the general concept of a soluble form of silica transported through the plant,
and concentrated at the outer surface of straw and husk through evaporation,
whereupon it polymerizes into an opaline cellulose-silica.

There are two distinct stages in the decomposition of rice husk - carbonization and
decarbonation. Carbonization is the decomposition of volatile matter in rice husk at
temperature greater than 300°C and releases combustible gas and tar. Decarbonation
is the combustion of fixed carbon in the rice husk char at higher temperature in the
presence of oxygen (Fig. 2.2) [Maeda et al., 2001]. The melting temperature of RHA
is estimated as 1440°C, that is, the temperature at which silica melts [Bronzeoak,

Rice husk ash contains 87-97 percent of silica with small amount of alkalis and other
trace elements. Based on temperature range and duration of burning of the husk,
crystalline and amorphous forms of silica are obtained [Stroeven et al., 1999; Hwang
and Chandra, 1997; Asavapisit and Ruengrit, 2005 and Basha et al., 2005]. The
crystalline and amorphous forms of silica have different properties and it is important
to produce ash with correct specifications for specific end use. Generally, the
amorphous forms of silica are composed of silica tetrahedral arranged in a random
three-dimensional network without regular lattice structures (Fig. 2.3). Due to
disordered arrangement, the structure is open with holes in the network where
electrical neutrality is not satisfied and the specific surface area is also large. This
helps to increase the reactivity, since large area is available for reaction to take place
[Shomglin et al., 2001].


The structure of crystalline silica is built by repetition of a basic unit–the silicon
tetrahedron in an oriented three-dimensional framework. In framework type structure
(e.g. quartz), the silicon tetrahedrons are joined through the vertices by oxygen, each
of which is linked to two silicon atoms (Fig. 2.4). The oxygen to silicon ratio equals
to 2:1, thus electrical neutrality is attained [Shomglin et al., 2001].

The silica occurs in several forms within the rice husks are at the molecular level and
it is associated with water. In nature, the polymorphs of silica are quartz, cristobalite,
tridymite, coestite, stishovite, lechatelerite and silica gel [Bronzeoak, 2003]. It is this
silica concentrated in husk by burning which makes the ash so valuable.

RHA has got numerous applications in silicon based industries. Substantial research
has been carried out on the use of RHA as a mineral admixture in the manufacture of
concrete. RHA in amorphous form can be used as a partial substitute for Portland
cement and as an admixture in high strength and high performance concretes. A
review on the use of RHA by the construction industry, in particular on concrete
production has been separately dealt in Chapter-5. Apart from this specific use, it has
many other usages as given below:
Due to its refractory properties, crystalline RHA is the most wanted material
for steel industries, ceramic industry and for the manufacture of refractory
bricks [Prasad et al., 2000 and Bronzeoak, 2003].
Basha et al., (2005) examined the possibilities of improving residual soil
properties by mixing RHA and cement in suitable proportions as stabilizing

Indian Space Research Organization has successfully developed a technology
for producing high purity silica from RHA that can be used in silicon chip
manufacture [Bronzeoak, 2003].
Naito (1999) introduced a low cost technology for controlling insect pests in
Soya beans by using RHA. The insects are irritated by the high levels of
silicon and the needle like particles.
Saha et al., (2001) studied the possibility of using RHA for manufacturing
activated carbon, and confirmed its usefulness in water purification.
Attempts have been made to utilize RHA in vulcanizing rubber. RHA has been
shown to offer advantages over silica as a vulcanising agent for ethylene-
propylene-diene terpolymer (EPDM), and is recommended as diluents filler
for EPDM rubber [Siriwandena et al., 2001].
Rice husk burnt for prolonged periods have been successfully used as oil
absorbent. RHA produced by maintaining temperatures 350-450°C for
extended period of time will be highly amorphous and porous. High porosity
of RHA is essential to absorb oil [Bronzeoak, 2003].
There are number of other uses of rice husk carbon and its ash, which are still
in the research stage, such as manufacture of roof tiles, as a free running agent
for fire extinguishing powder, abrasive filler for tooth paste, a component of
fire proof material, beer clarifier, extender filler for paint, production of
sodium silicate films, and so on.

Paddy rice production in India is as close as 150 million tones per annum. Of all the
plant residues, the ash of rice husk contains the highest proportion of silica. Rice husk
ash, obtained from the incineration of husk, is rich in silica (87 – 97 percent) with

small amounts of alkalis and other trace elements. Silica in RHA exists in amorphous
or crystalline form, depending upon the production conditions. Each form of silica has
different structure depending upon the reactivity. RHA has got several applications in
silicon based industries, apart from extensive uses in the field of Civil Engineering.


Table 2.1: Global rice paddy, and potential husk and ash production in the
year 2006 [www.maps of]

Countries Paddy
(million tonnes)
Total paddy
Husk produced
(million tonnes)
Potential ash
(million tonnes)
Asia 574.20 90.95 114.84 20.67
South America 22.60 3.57 4.52 0.81
Africa 20.00 3.16 4.00 0.72
North America 11.10 1.75 2.22 0.39
Europe 3.40 0.53 0.68 0.12
Total 631.30 100 126.26 22.72

Table 2.2: Typical husk analysis [Bronzeoak, 2003]
S. No Property Range
1 Bulk density (kg/m
) 96 - 160
2 Length of husk (mm) 2.0 – 5.0
3 Hardness (Mohr’s scale) 5.0 - 6.0
4 Ash (%) 22.0 - 29.0
5 Carbon (%) ≈ 35.0
6 Hydrogen (%) 4.0 - 5.0
7 Oxygen (%) 31.0 – 37.0
8 Nitrogen (%) 0.23 - 0.32
9 Sulphur (%) 0.04 - 0.08
10 Moisture (%) 8.0 - 9.0


Fig. 2.1: A combined effect of back scattered electron and X-ray images revealing
porous husk structure and silica concentration at outer surface [Stroeven et al.,

Heat O

Combustible gas & tar Heat

Fig. 2.2: Thermal decomposition process of rice husk [Maeda et al., 2001]

Rice husk Char Rice husk ash
Decarbonation Carbonization

Fig. 2.3: Two-dimensional diagram of a random SiO
network [Shomglin et al., 2001]

Fig. 2.4: Two-dimensional diagram of an ordered SiO
network [Shomglin et al., 2001]