What is Bentonite?

Bentonite is the active ingredient in our Volclay (VOLcanic CLAY) range of waterproofing solutions including Voltex, Swelltite, Waterstop-RX. 

Bentonite is essentially a high swelling clay mineral whose name was derived from the location of the first commercial deposits mined at Fort Benton, Wyoming U.S.A. This is the source of Volclay sodium bentonite.

Geologically bentonites are mainly of volcanic origin and can date to Cretaceous or even Jurassic ages, i.e. the period of ammonites and dinosaurs. The majority of commercial deposits were formed by the hydrolysis of volcanic rock or ash and are found in every continent except Antarctica. Mineralogically, bentonite principally consists of montmorillonite in combination with 10 to 20% various mineral impurities such as feldspars, calcite, silica, gypsum, etc. Monmoriullonite belongs to the smectite group of clays which also include similar behaving minerals such as beidellite, saponite and hectorite.

diagThe structure of montmorillonite is fundamentally a three layer “flake” or “platelet” with an octahedral aluminium hydroxyl sheet sandwiched between two layers of silicon-oxygen tetrahedra. However, the aluminium atoms are partially replaced by the substitution of either magnesium or iron atoms, thereby creating a charge deficiency within the unit structure. This results in a small negative charge on the basal plane of silica tetrahedra which is balanced by absorption of (exchangeable) cations between adjacent platelets. In natural montmorillonites these cations are usually calcium, sodium or magnesium according to the weathering agent associated with the formation of mineral.

Attractive surfaces between the surface oxygen atoms of the silica tetrahedra and the hydrogen atoms of the water molecules develop. This allows the hexagonal water structure to build up and form a rigid network made up of many water layers. The water structure extends outward from the platelet surface further increasing the separation of platelets.