Abstract Uniformly sized ultrafine silica powder can be obtained by nonisothermal decomposition of rice husk in an oxidizing atmosphere. The properties of reactant and product including morphology, particle size, surface area, pore volume and pore distribution, have been investigated by TEM, SEM, XRD, FTIR, ICP-MS, and EA. At a heating rate of 5 K/min, the specific surface area of the silica powder was 235 m 2/g, the average pore diameter was 5.4 nm, and the average particle size was 60 nm. The products obtained from various heating rates were all amorphous. By using a thermogravimetric analysis technique, a mechanism including two reaction stages was observed for the thermal decomposition of rice husk in air. The activation energy was found to be 166±10 kJ/mol. This method can conveniently provide preparation of silica of high surface area and nanometer grade.