Abstract

Vermiculite minerals are locally available in the Mozambique Belt of Tanzania but are not currently commercially exploited. In part this may be due to lack of any precise characterization. This study was carried out as a first step to assess the suitability of these vermiculites for crop production by characterization of their mineralogical and chemical compositions. X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy combined with an energy-dispersive X-ray system were used to establish the mineralogy. Electron microprobe analysis and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry were used to study the chemical compositions and to identify any possible issues related to chemical composition that might affect their use if applied as soil conditioners. The samples were characterized as vermiculites and hydrobiotites with a wide variety of accessory minerals. Accessory minerals that might be of some concern are galena, fibrous amphiboles and sepiolite. The total levels of Ni in all vermiculites, and Cr in some, were also found to be high relative to common European standards and this might limit their potential as soil conditioners. It is clear that a field assessment of the bioavailability of various elements would be necessary before decisions relating to potential agricultural use could be made.

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