How do you get water out of a rock? Easy – if that rock is a zeolite!
In 1756, Swedish scientist Axel Cronstedt discovered that heating stilbite (a natural zeolite species) to a high temperature caused the rock to steam, as if there was water inside it. Cronstedt coined the term “zeolite”, a combination of the Greek words for “to boil” (zeo) and “stone” (lithos). We now know that the structure of zeolite can ‘trap’ and hold water molecules.
Zeolites are composed of molecules of oxygen, aluminum, and silica that form interlinked tetrahedra. These structures are like molecular cages, which can trap and hold other molecules such as water.
The zeolite cages retain the water and release it slowly, making zeolite a very useful addition to soils and growth media. Zeolite can also be pretreated with elemental nutrients such as potassium; the zeolite holds the potassium and releases it slowly into the soil, making it an effective slow release fertilizer.
The stable tetrahedra structure of zeolite provides the additional benefit of soil aeration. Zeolite, unlike other mineral additives, does not break down over time. Adding a soil amendment like Absorbent Products’ Green Patch™ increases the soil’s porosity and allows more oxygen to reach the plant root systems.
There are 40 naturally occurring zeolite species, and over 200 more that have been created artificially. Natural zeolites were formed thousands to millions of years ago, in areas where volcanic rock and ash reacted with alkaline groundwater. Synthetic zeolites can be ‘custom-made’ so that their tetrahedra are specifically shaped to encapsulate the target material. Due to this, synthetic zeolites are used in a wide variety of industrial applications, from petrochemical processing to nuclear radiation remediation.
One particular natural species of zeolite, called clinoptilolite, has a strong exchange affinity for ammonium. This makes it an excellent odour absorber when used for cat litter and livestock bedding, as ammonia is trapped and held. Absorbent Products’ line of zeolite treatments for animal waste management, such as Horse Sense™ and Poultry Sense™, are all made from our deposit of natural clinoptilolite located in the mountains of southern British Columbia. For more information on the many uses of zeolite and our products, give us a call!