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Information @ a Glance

General
  • Zeolites are minerals that have a micro-porous structure. Natural zeolites form where volcanic rocks and ash layers react with alkaline groundwater. Zeolites also crystallized in post-depositional environments over periods ranging from thousands to millions of years in shallow marine basins. Naturally occurring zeolites are rarely pure and are contaminated to varying degrees by other minerals, metals, quartz or other zeolites.
  • The zeolites are framework silicates consisting of interlocking tetrahedrons of SiO4 and AlO4. In order to be a zeolite the ratio (Si +Al)/O must equal 1/2. The alumino-silicate structure is negatively charged and attracts the positive cations that reside within. Unlike most other tectosilicates, zeolites have large vacant spaces or cages in their structures that allow space for large cations such as sodium, potassium, barium and calcium and even relatively large molecules and cation groups such as water, ammonia, carbonate ions and nitrate ions.

Physical/Chemical Properties of Zeolite

  • The particular affinity a species has for an internal zeolite cavity depends on electronic considerations. The strong electrostatic field within a zeolite cavity results in very strong interaction with polar molecules such as water. Non-polar molecules are also strongly adsorbed due to the polarizing power of these electric fields.
  • The heat of water adsorption for zeolites is high. They also possess high adsorption capacity, undergo reversible adsorption/desorption, and are structurally stable. These properties enable zeolite to be used in solar-powered refrigerators and to store energy during off-peak periods and release it during peak periods.

Applications

  • It is widely been used as ion-exchange beds in both domestic and commercial water purification, softening, and other applications. In chemistry, it separates molecules, only of certain sizes and shapes can pass through, as traps for molecules so that they can be analyzed, or as catalysts by confining molecules in small spaces that causes changes in their structure and reactivity.
  • Clinoptilolite, a naturally occurring zeolite, is used as a soil treatment in agriculture. It provides a source of slowly released potassium. If the zeolite is previously loaded with ammonium, it can serve a similar function in the slow release of nitrogen. Cuban studies even suggests that some crops may be grown in 100% zeolite or zeolite mixtures, where the zeolite is previously loaded or has been coated with fertilizer and micronutrients.
  • Zeolite-based oxygen generation systems are used in producing medical grade oxygen. It is used as a molecular sieve for extracting oxygen from air, in a process which involves adsorption of atmospheric nitrogen. The usage of zeolite is also being explored for a quick clotting of severe bleeding.

Market and Report

  • Zeolites and molecular sieves are widely used in a variety of highly important industrial applications. Zeolites can be of synthetic or natural origin, with synthetic products dominating commercial markets. The world synthetic zeolite market totaled approximately $ 1.5 billion in 1994, with catalysts representing the largest sector on a value basis and detergent zeolites the largest on a volume basis. The largest utilization for zeolites is in catalysts, principally for petroleum and petrochemical cracking processes.
  • Worldwide production of natural zeolites was estimated to be more than 3 million tons. Estimates for individual countries were Bulgaria, 45,000 tons; China, 2.5 million tons; Cuba, 500,000 to 600,000 tons; Hungary, 10,000 to 20,000 tons; Italy, 4,000 tons; Japan, 80,000 to 100,000 tons; South Africa 10,000 to 15,000 tons; the United States, 46,800 tons; and the former U.S.S.R., 10,000 tons. Small amounts of natural zeolites also were produced in Argentina, Australia, Germany, and  Indonesia.

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