The Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) theory models the effective specific surface area and water content of solids as a function of the relative vapor pressure of water. A modified form of the BET equation has been used successfully to model water activity in concentrated electrolyte solutions as a function of electrolyte concentration. This modified form, referred to here as the Stokes-Robinson BET model, is based on the electrolyte molality rather than on the mass of solute sorbed. The present study evaluates the Stokes-Robinson form of the BET equation to model water-sorption data on two smectites with different layer charges. One smectite was saturated with Na+ and another with Na+, Ca2+, or Mg2+. These results are compared to the Stokes-Robinson BET results of aqueous electrolyte solutions. Given published data on cation exchange capacities and water-vapor sorption isotherms for various clays, the molality of the aqueous phase in contact with the clay surface is calculated and related to water activity. The Stokes-Robinson BET model was found to describe accurately the water activity as a function of cation molality below water activities of 0.5 for the smectites. Good relative agreement was obtained between the number of water binding sites predicted by the model and the experimental data reported in the literature for other smectites. Water molecules were found to have a significantly greater affinity for montmorillonite than electrolyte solutions with the same cation molality as the montmorillonite interlayer. This modified BET approach simplifies water-activity modeling in highly saline environments because the same equation can be used for both the liquid- and mineral-surface phases.

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