The Relation Between Composition and Swelling in Clays*

Margaret D. Foster
U.S. Geological Survey
* Publication authorized by the Director, U.S. Geological Survey.

Abstract: The phenomenon of swelling is associated with the hydration of clay; however, all clays do not swell when hydrated. Steps in the mechanism of hydration and swelling of different types of clays as observed and interpreted by several investigators and some theories proposed as to the cause of hydration and swelling are reviewed.

The concept of clays as colloidal electrolytes that dissociate to a greater or less extent when dispersed in water seems to explain most satisfactorily the significant relation between the degree of swelling on hydration and the composition of the clay minerals. In the kaolinite group, in which there are generally no replacements, the small number of exchangeable cations associated with the clay structure are presumed to be held by broken bonds on the edges of the sheets. Even though kaolinite, as shown by Marshall, is more highly ionized than montmorillonite, this greater ionization, because of the small number of cations present and their location on the edges of the sheets, cannot pry the units apart or leave the sheets sufficiently charged to cause the mineral to exhibit the phenomenon of swelling.

In the montmorillonite structure, on the other hand, isomorphous replacements, most commonly of magnesium and ferrous iron for aluminum in the octahedral layer, and, to a slight degree, replacement of aluminum for silicon in the tetrahedral layer, give the structure a net residual charge of 0.7 to 1.10 milliequivalents, which is neutralized by cations held electrostatically and located, for the most part, between the sheets. On hydration such a structure tends to ionize, the degree of ionization depending on (a) the nature of the exchangeable cation and (b) the kind and extent of isomorphous replacements. The characteristically great swelling of sodium montmorillonite as compared with calcium montmorillonite can be correlated with its much greater ionization. The differences in swelling of different montmorillonites have been correlated with the nature and extent of octahedral substitution and are attributed to the effect of these replacements on the anionic strength of the structural unit and its consequent degree of ionization as influenced by the changes in polarization throughout the structure caused by these replacements.

Hydrous mica, with the same structure as montmorillonite, is characterized by even a greater degree of isomorphous replacements and, consequently, a greater charge. However, a large part of this charge is neutralized by fixed, nonexchangeable and nonionizable potassium, and ionization of the exchangeable cations is unable to overcome the effect of this fixed potassium. It is probable that the greater replacements in the hydrous mica structure, as in the montmorillonite structure, have a depressing effect on ionization. The result is that hydrous micas are characterized by a very low degree of swelling.

Clays and Clay Minerals; 1954 v. 3; no. 1; p. 205-220; DOI: 10.1346/CCMN.1954.0030117
© 1954, The Clay Minerals Society
Clay Minerals Society (www.clays.org)