A pot of water, when it boils, sooner or later you will see steam coming out of it. If you add a special rock called zeolite, it traps the water inside. Back in 1756, Swedish geologists coined the name 'zeolite' because it literally means 'boiling stone'; today, the term refers to more than 200 different minerals that have a variety of interesting uses, from water softeners and cat sand to animal food and industrial catalysts. What is zeolite powder and how do they work? FEIZHOU leads you to take a closer look!
What are zeolites?
Properties of zeolites
What are zeolites used for?
Zeolites are hydrated aluminosilicate minerals made from interconnected tetrahedra of aluminium oxide (AlO 4 ) and silicon dioxide (SiO 4 ). In short, they are solids with a relatively open three-dimensional crystal structure consisting of the elements aluminium, oxygen and silicon, containing alkali or alkaline earth metals (such as sodium, potassium and magnesium) plus trapped water molecules in the gaps between them. Zeolites have many different crystal structures which have very regularly arranged large open pores roughly the same size as small molecules.
Zeolites are very stable solids and can withstand a wide range of environmental conditions that challenge many other materials. High temperatures do not disturb them as they have a relatively high melting point (over 1000°C) and do not burn. They are also resistant to high pressure, insoluble in water or other inorganic solvents and do not oxidise in air.
The most interesting aspect of zeolites is their open cage-like 'framework' structure and the way in which they can trap other molecules within it. This is why water molecules and alkali metal or alkaline earth metal ions (positively charged atoms with too few electrons, sometimes called cations) become part of the zeolite crystal - although they do not necessarily stay there permanently.
Zeolites have regular openings of a fixed size that allow small molecules to pass right through but trap larger ones; this is why they are sometimes called molecular sieves. Unlike natural zeolites, which occur in random forms and mixed sizes, synthetic zeolites have very precise and uniform sizes, trapping molecules of a particular size inside them.
The cage-like structure of zeolites makes them useful in a variety of ways. One of the biggest everyday uses for zeolites is in water softeners and water filters. Many everyday laundry and dishwasher detergents contain zeolites, which remove calcium and magnesium and soften water so that it works more effectively.
Two other very common everyday uses for zeolite are odour control and pet waste; in both cases the porous crystal structure of zeolite helps to trap unwanted liquid and odour molecules. Many other uses for zeolites include concrete production, soil conditioners and animal food.
Another important use for zeolites is as catalysts in pharmaceutical production and in the petrochemical industry, breaking down large hydrocarbon molecules into gasoline, diesel, paraffin, wax and various other petroleum by-products in catalytic cracking units. Also proving important is the porous structure of zeolites. The many pores in the open structure of zeolite act like millions of tiny test tubes in which atoms and molecules are trapped and chemical reactions can easily take place. As with all catalysts, zeolites can be used over and over again.
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