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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Mar 30;96(7):3358-64.

Surface geochemistry of the clay minerals.

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  • 1Earth Sciences Division, Mail Stop 90/1116, Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.


Clay minerals are layer type aluminosilicates that figure in terrestrial biogeochemical cycles, in the buffering capacity of the oceans, and in the containment of toxic waste materials. They are also used as lubricants in petroleum extraction and as industrial catalysts for the synthesis of many organic compounds. These applications derive fundamentally from the colloidal size and permanent structural charge of clay mineral particles, which endow them with significant surface reactivity. Unraveling the surface geochemistry of hydrated clay minerals is an abiding, if difficult, topic in earth sciences research. Recent experimental and computational studies that take advantage of new methodologies and basic insights derived from the study of concentrated ionic solutions have begun to clarify the structure of electrical double layers formed on hydrated clay mineral surfaces, particularly those in the interlayer region of swelling 2:1 layer type clay minerals. One emerging trend is that the coordination of interlayer cations with water molecules and clay mineral surface oxygens is governed largely by cation size and charge, similarly to a concentrated ionic solution, but the location of structural charge within a clay layer and the existence of hydrophobic patches on its surface provide important modulations. The larger the interlayer cation, the greater the influence of clay mineral structure and hydrophobicity on the configurations of adsorbed water molecules. This picture extends readily to hydrophobic molecules adsorbed within an interlayer region, with important implications for clay-hydrocarbon interactions and the design of catalysts for organic synthesis.

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