Montmorillonite (Mt) is a ubiquitous swelling clay mineral and major component of soft rocks, sediments, and soils with an inherent capability to sorb metal cations. This unique feature renders Mt important for the enrichment and mobilization of environmentally important metal cations, retardation of heavy metals and radionuclide ions, the evolution of clay mineral itself, soils and sediments, and other geological processes. Understanding the interfacial interactions of Mt with metal cations at the molecular level is of fundamental importance in all these processes, but still remains elusive, due to the chemical and structural complexity of Mt surfaces and the diverse chemistries of metal cations. In this Review, we aim to provide the reader with a comprehensive overview of the adsorption modes of metal cations on basal and edge surfaces of Mt, local chemical environments of the cation binding sites, the driving forces for metal sorption, and factors influencing the dynamics of cation uptake onto Mt surfaces. Various surface complexation models [i.e., nonelectrostatic model (NEM), constant capacitance model (CCM), diffuse layer model (DLM), and triple-layer model (TLM)], advanced spectroscopic techniques (i.e., NEM, CCM, DLM, and TLM), and atomistic simulation methods (i.e., MD, DFT, and FPMD) have been used in conjunction with macroscopic adsorption experiments to gain detailed insights into the interfacial interactions of metal cations on Mt. Mt adsorbs metal cations via three independent pathways: (1) cation exchange; (2) surface complexation; and (3) nucleation and surface precipitation. The principal driving force for cation exchange is electrostatic interaction, while chemical bonding governs the two other mechanisms that depend on the basal and edge surface properties of Mt. The siloxane cavities on the tetrahedral basal plane exhibit the strongest adsorption sites for cation exchange and are greatly affected by the the degree of Al3+/Si4+ tetrahedral substitutions. At the amphoteric edge surfaces bearing hydroxyl groups, metal cations could form mono/multiden-tate surface complexes on Mt [010] and [110] edges. Ionic strength, pH, the presence of competing cations, temperature, and layer charge have been shown to affect the adsorption mechanisms and quantity of adsorbed cations. The updated information on the interfacial interactions of metal cations with Mt basal and edge surfaces presented in this review provides an improved understanding of the enrichment of metals, formation of metal ores, and natural biogeochemical cycles, as well as may promote technological and engineering applications of this important clay mineral in environmental remediation, geological repository, petroleum exploration and extraction, and extraterrestrial research.

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