La roca magica: Uses of natural zeolites in agriculture and industry
Mumpton, Frederick A.
The National Academy of Sciences
For nearly 200 years since their discovery in 1756, geologists considered the zeolite minerals to occur as fairly large crystals in the vugs and cavities of basalts and other traprock formations. Here, they were prized by mineral collectors, but their small abundance and polymineralic nature defied commercial exploitation. As the synthetic zeolite (molecular sieve) business began to take hold in the late 1950s, huge beds of zeolite-rich sediments, formed by the alteration of volcanic ash (glass) in lake and marine waters, were discovered in the western United States and elsewhere in the world. These beds were found to contain as much as 95% of a single zeolite; they were generally flat-lying and easily mined by surface methods. The properties of these low-cost natural materials mimicked those of many of their synthetic counterparts, and considerable effort has made since that time to develop applications for them based on their unique adsorption, cation-exchange, dehydration–rehydration, and catalytic properties. Natural zeolites (i.e., those found in volcanogenic sedimentary rocks) have been and are being used as building stone, as lightweight aggregate and pozzolans in cements and concretes, as filler in paper, in the take-up of Cs and Sr from nuclear waste and fallout, as soil amendments in agronomy and horticulture, in the removal of ammonia from municipal, industrial, and agricultural waste and drinking waters, as energy exchangers in solar refrigerators, as dietary supplements in animal diets, as consumer deodorizers, in pet litters, in taking up ammonia from animal manures, and as ammonia filters in kidney-dialysis units. From their use in construction during Roman times, to their role as hydroponic (zeoponic) substrate for growing plants on space missions, to their recent success in the healing of cuts and wounds, natural zeolites are now considered to be full-fledged mineral commodities, the use of which promise to expand even more in the future.
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