Uses for Zeolites
Beginning in the twentieth century, Zeolites have been used for hundreds of years as human body cleansers and later in industry, to collect, filter and extract many different organic compounds and metals from various fluids and solutions.
Zeolites are now used extensively in water filtration and water purification by many governments, municipalities, industries and domestic users particularly inthe purification for fresh water supplies in areas where water has become highly polluted.Zeolites are also used as filters for swimming pools and fish tanks. For example your home pool filter system has zeolite within it as do most fish home aquarium filters which absorb the cation wastes of the fish from the water purifying it.
Zeolites have become important in the purification of other fluids They are increasingly being use in industry to collect, filter and extract toxic metals and remove many other different organic compounds from all types of liquids used in product manufacturing and food processing. They are extremely efficient in this role and are used to filter toxic radioactive water, sewerage and mine tailings.
Clinoptilolite, (one particular type of zeolite), is also registered for, and used extensively in, animal and fish feeds to reduce the production of ammonia and increase nutritive value of the other foods. There are many published studies that have demonstrated that clinoptilolite binds a range of mycotoxins [chemical wastes of bacterium, yeasts moulds or fungus which are usually toxic (poisonous) to the organism’s host], benefiting the health of animals into whose feed clinoptilolite has been added. These foods enter the human food chain once the animals are prepared for the market place. It is also used in cat litter to absorb odours, in animal feed lots and animal stalls where it also reduces odour and bacterial infections.
In agriculture, zeolite has been used as a soil treatment as it provides a source of slowly released minerals such as potassium. The zeolite is loaded with the required nutrients and absorbs up to 55% of its weight in water, slowly releasing the solubilised minerals according to plant demand.
Many applications have been developed from natural zeolite’s unique adsorption, cation exchange, dehydration-rehydration, and catalytic properties. Zeolites act as molecular sieves, whereby organic molecules are selectively absorbed according to size. They also act as catalysts, promoting the oxidation of organic molecules. Zeolites can reversibly bind small molecules such as oxygen or nitric oxide; they possess size and shape selectivity, the possibility of mimicking metalloenzyme processes [an enzyme having a metal ion linked to its protein component], and immunomodulatory activity. These properties give zeolite products huge potential in the pharmaceutical and medical industries.
These properties are now being exploited in many organic reactions, including crude oil cracking, isomerisation and fuel synthesis. In powder detergents, synthetic zeolites replaced harmful phosphate builders, now banned in many parts of the world because of water pollution risks.
Another major use for clinoptilolite is as an additive to feed for cows, pigs, horses and chickens. It absorbs toxins in the feed that are created by moulds and microscopic parasites and enhances food absorption by these animals. Similar uses in human foods and supplements are currently being researched.
Natural zeolites have the advantage over synthetic zeolites of having superior crystalline structures with ‘pores’ or ‘cages’ of differing dimensions suitable for many varied purposes. The purity of the cages has remained unpolluted over time.
Clinoptilolite can easily absorb ammonia and other toxic gases from air and water and thus can be used in gas filters, both for health reasons and for odour removal. It is used nuclear waste reprocessing to encapsulate waste fission materials for safer disposal.
It is used for many other everyday commercial, medicinal and domestic uses. The ability of zeolites to trap, carry and release minerals is put to use everyday to help cleanup the environment and make it a safer, less toxic place for us to live in.