On the structural formula of smectites: a review and new data on the influence of exchangeable cations

J Appl Crystallogr. 2021 Feb 1;54(Pt 1):251-262. doi: 10.1107/S1600576720016040.


The understanding of the structural formula of smectite minerals is basic to predicting their physicochemical properties, which depend on the location of the cation substitutions within their 2:1 layer. This implies knowing the correct distribution and structural positions of the cations, which allows assigning the source of the layer charge of the tetrahedral or octahedral sheet, determining the total number of octahedral cations and, consequently, knowing the type of smectite. However, sometimes the structural formula obtained is not accurate. A key reason for the complexity of obtaining the correct structural formula is the presence of different exchangeable cations, especially Mg. Most smectites, to some extent, contain Mg2+ that can be on both octahedral and interlayer positions. This indeterminacy can lead to errors when constructing the structural formula. To estimate the correct position of the Mg2+ ions, that is their distribution over the octahedral and interlayer positions, it is necessary to substitute the interlayer Mg2+ and work with samples saturated with a known cation (homoionic samples). Seven smectites of the dioctahedral and trioctahedral types were homoionized with Ca2+, substituting the natural exchangeable cations. Several differences were found between the formulae obtained for the natural and Ca2+ homoionic samples. Both layer and interlayer charges increased, and the calculated numbers of octahedral cations in the homoionic samples were closer to four and six in the dioctahedral and trioctahedral smectites, respectively, with respect to the values calculated in the non-homoionic samples. This change was not limited to the octahedral sheet and interlayer, because the tetrahedral content also changed. For both dioctahedral and trioctahedral samples, the structural formulae improved considerably after homoionization of the samples, although higher accuracy was obtained the more magnesic and trioctahedral the smectites were. Additionally, the changes in the structural formulae sometimes resulted in changing the classification of the smectite.

Keywords: beidellite; homoionization; kerolite; montmorillonite; saponite; smectite; stevensite; structural formula.

Grant support

This work was funded by Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Agencia Estatal de Investigación grant CGL2016-77005R. Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia grant UID/Multi/04349/2019. Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia grant BL224/2018_IST-ID to Javier García-Rivas.