A new method has been developed for quantifying smectite abundance by sorbing polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) on smectite particles dispersed in aqueous solution. The sorption density of PVP-55K on a wide range of smectites, illites and kaolinites is ~0.99 mg/m2, which corresponds to ~0.72 g of PVP-55K per gram of montmorillonite. Polyvinylpyrrolidone sorption on smectites is independent of layer charge and solution pH. PVP sorption on SiO2, Fe2O3 and ZnO normalized to the BET surface area is similar to the sorption densities on smectites. γ-Al2O3, amorphous Al(OH)3 and gibbsite have no PVP sorption over a wide range of pH, and sorption of PVP by organics is minimal. The insensitivity of PVP sorption densities to mineral layer charge, solution pH and mineral surface charge indicates that PVP sorption is not localized at charged sites, but is controlled by more broadly distributed sorption mechanisms such as Van der Waals’ interactions and/or hydrogen bonding. Smectites have very large surface areas when dispersed as single unit-cell-thick particles (~725 m2/g) and usually dominate the total surface areas of natural samples in which smectites are present. In this case, smectite abundance is directly proportional to PVP sorption. In some cases, however, the accurate quantification of smectite abundance by PVP sorption may require minor corrections for PVP uptake by other phases, principally illite and kaolinite. Quantitative XRD can be combined with PVP uptake measurements to uniquely determine the smectite concentration in such samples.

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