Some aspects of the crystal structure of illite are not understood properly yet, in spite of its abundance and significance as a component of soils, sediments, and low-grade metamorphic rocks. The present study aimed to explore the role of hydronium cations in the interlayer space of illite in a theoretical-experimental approach in order to clarify previous controversial reports. The infrared spectroscopy of this mineral has been studied experimentally and by means of atomistic calculations at the quantum mechanical level. The tetrahedral charge is critical for the stability of the hydronium cations, the presence of which has probably been underestimated in previous studies. In the present study, computational studies have shown that the hydronium cations in aqueous solutions are likely to be intercalated in the interlayer space of illite, exchanging for K cations. During the drying process these cations are stabilized by hydrogen bonds in the interlayer space of illite.

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