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What is Activated Clay?

Activated clay is clay, usually of bentonite origin, which has been treated to improve its ability to
adsorb. The clay is processed with acid, upping the adsorption properties of the clay considerably.
Once it has been treated, activated clay can also be reactivated as it is used, allowing people to
reuse the clay rather than having to continually replace it. There are a number of uses for this
product, and it can be found directly through manufacturers and at locations like home supply
stores and stores which stock auto repair supplies.

When activated clay is spread across a surface, it readily adsorbs oils and other materials present
on the surface. One use for this product is in auto shops and similar repair facilities where oil often
ends up on the ground; activated clay can be used to soak it up so that it can be safely removed.
This product is also used in environmental cleanup of oil spills and other incidents, and in other
settings where oils may accumulate, as for example in slaughterhouses where fat and grease can
build up.

This product can be reactivated by heating it to get it to release the substances it has adsorbed,
allowing people to reuse it. Since activated clay is sometimes used with materials which are toxic
or dangerous, it is important to make sure that it is reactivated by someone with experience; one
wants to avoid releasing the materials so carefully cleaned up with the assistance of the clay.
People can also discard this product by securely bagging it and depositing it in waste containers
which are designed to accommodate the types of materials picked up by the clay.

Companies may also refer to this product as “bleaching clay,” referencing the fact that it can
bleach out pigments. Bleaching clay is used in materials processing in a variety of industries to
pull out pigments, as seen for example in paper processing. It can also be used to purify and refine
oils by pulling out impurities and pigments and leaving the clean oil behind.

When not in use, activated clay should be stored in a cool, dry place. If the clay is exposed to
moisture it can pick it up, and in warm environments, the clay will release fluids, and it can
become messy. Some people store it in sealed tubs to keep moisture out of the activated clay while
it is not in use.

Activated Clay Desiccant

Short Description
Activated Clay is most commonly used in sachet form in a wide range of industries, including
pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, medical, diagnostics, food, confectionary and electronics.
Activated clay is a naturally occurring porous mineral which has been dried to produce an
adsorbent material. The clay has a good adsorption capacity within normal temperature and
relative humidity ranges. Activated clay retains its structure as it becomes saturated and can be
easily reactivated for re-use by heating.
The main disadvantage of this material is its ability to give up moisture at low temperatures.
Subjecting the material to temperatures as low as 50°C may begin the process of releasing
moisture back into its surroundings. This property of the material is useful for reactivating the clay
but could cause problems for particular applications that are subjected to high temperatures.
Therefore care must taken when selecting this material for moisture protection.

Activated clay is chemically inert and non-toxic which makes it safe to handle and can be easily
disposed of. The clay is usually more economical than chemically synthesized adsorbents like
silica gel or molecular sieves.

Acid Activated Clay Adsorption Properties

Acid Treatment of Bentonite: Under the influence of a mineral acid the exchangeable alkaline
earth ions of bentonite are substituted by hydrogen ions. Moreover, depending on the acid
concentration, temperature, pressure and reaction time, a more or less pronounced leaching
process takes place. Thereby Al-, Fe- and Mg-ions are extracted from the octahedron layers. This
results in a change in the crystalline structure of montmorillonite and in an increase of its specific
surface area and porosity, as shown in Figure 2.

Clay Adsorption Mechanism

In order to gather more experience concerning the possible mechanism in the adsorptive
purification of oils, experiments have been made to determine to which extent the free, amorphous
silica resulting from acid activation and the intact residual montmorillonite portion influence the

For this purpose raw linseed and palm-oils and neutralized soybean and peanut oils were bleached
with 0.5 % (peanut oil with 0.25 %) of the high active bleaching earth Tonsil Optimum FF. After
filtration the used bleaching earth covered with the contaminations from the oil was secured and
the oils still adhering to the filtercake were removed by a 24 hours n-hexane extraction.

On one portion of the freed-of-oil filtercake the following was determined:

the specific surface by nitrogen adsorption

the micropore volume by capillary condensation of carbon tetrachloride
the carbon content.
A second portion of the free-of-oil filtercake was treated with a hot 2 % sodium carbonate solution
to extract the free, amorphous silica. The same examinations were conducted at the residual
montmorillonite portion. The results of the tests are summarized in Table 1.

The adsorption process at oil bleaching considerably reduces the micropore volume and the
specific surface of the bleaching earth. The active spots of the bleaching earth are covered with
organic impurities from the oil, what becomes evident from the more or less high carbon content
in the oil free bleaching earth filtercake.
In view of the above it can be concluded that sorptive clays produced from bentonites by acid
activation develop different adsorption capacities depending on the acid concentration. This is
caused by a more or less strong acid attack primarily leaching out Al- and Fe-ions from the
octahedron montmorillonite layers. The free, amorphous silicic acid formed at the leaching
process develops strong adsorptive and selective capacities, as shown on the example of edible oil
bleaching. Adsorption also takes place on the residual montmorillonite portion in the bleaching

Further examinations will be conducted to determine the kinds of compounds in the oils which are
preferably adsorptively bonded on the SiO2 and the montmorillonite portion respectively.

Amorphous silicic acid develops during the acid leaching and causes a wedge-like splitting of the
silicate plates and their disorientation. The chemical reactivity as well as the adsorption capacity
of bentonite considerably increase through the mentioned chemical and physical changes. A
scheme of the morphologic changes of montmorillonite caused by acid attack is shown in Figure
3. The montmorillonite silicate layers originally having a regular structure are attacked by the acid
beginning from their edges and the ions of the octahedron layers are extracted. As deep as the acid
had penetrated irregularly distributed amorphous SiO4 tetrahedron bonds remain in the layers and
through a certain wedge effect and steric hindrance cause a disorientation in the layers, especially
at drying. The X-ray structure analysis clearly proves this process. The combination of free silica
and by the acid more or less undamaged montmorillonite crystals seems to be essential for the
extremely efficient adsorption capacity of acid treated clays.