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Infobox on Bentonite
Example of Bentonite
Origin Australia, China, Europe, India, Russia, U.S.A.
Stowage factor (in m3/t) 1,14 m/t (bulk)
Humidity / moisture -
Ventilation -
Risk factors
  • Moisture damage
  • Contamination
  • Spillage



Bentonite is a light coloured powder found in two varieties, Sodium Bentonite and Calcium Bentonite.

Bentonite is an absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate, essentially impure clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. There are different types of bentonite, each named after the respective dominant element, such as potassium (K), sodium (Na), calcium (Ca), and aluminum (Al). Experts debate a number of nomenclatorial problems with the classification of bentonite clays. Bentonite usually forms from weathering of volcanic ash, most often in the presence of water. However, the term bentonite, as well as a similar clay called tonstein, has been used for clay beds of uncertain origin. For industrial purposes, two main classes of bentonite exist: sodium and calcium bentonite. In stratigraphy and tephrochronology, completely devitrified (weathered volcanic glass) ash-fall beds are commonly referred to as K-bentonites when the dominant clay species is illite. Other common clay species, and sometimes dominant, are montmorillonite and kaolinite. Kaolinite-dominated clays are commonly referred to as tonsteins and are typically associated with coal

Sodium bentonite

Sodium bentonite expands when wet, absorbing as much as several times its dry mass in water. Because of its excellent colloidal properties, it is often used in drilling mud for oil and gas wells and for geotechnical and environmental investigations.

The property of swelling also makes sodium bentonite useful as a sealant, since it provides a self-sealing, low permeability barrier. It is used to line the base of landfills to prevent migration of leachate, for quarantining metal pollutants of groundwater, and for the sealing of subsurface disposal systems for spent nuclear fuel. Similar uses include making slurry walls, waterproofing of below-grade walls, and forming other impermeable barriers, e.g., to seal off the annulus of a water well, to plug old wells. It is also used to form a barrier around newly planted trees to constrain root growth so as to prevent damage to nearby pipes, footpaths and other infrastructure.

Sodium bentonite can also be "sandwiched" between synthetic materials to create geo-synthetic clay liners (GCL) for the aforementioned purposes. This technique allows for more convenient transport and installation, and it greatly reduces the volume of sodium bentonite required.

Various surface modifications to sodium bentonite improve some rheological or sealing performance in geoenviromental applications, for example, the addition of polymers.

Calcium bentonite

Calcium bentonite is a useful adsorbent of ions in solution, as well as fats and oils, being a main active ingredient of fuller's earth, probably one of the earliest industrial cleaning agents. Calcium bentonite may be converted to sodium bentonite (termed sodium beneficiation or sodium activation) to exhibit many of sodium bentonite's properties by a process known as "ion exchange. In common usage, this means adding 5–10% of a soluble sodium salt such as sodium carbonate to wet bentonite, mixing well, and allowing time for the ion exchange to take place and water to remove the exchanged calcium. Some properties, such as viscosity and fluid loss of suspensions, of sodium-beneficiated calcium bentonite (or sodium-activated bentonite) may not be fully equivalent to those of natural sodium bentonite. For example, residual calcium carbonates (formed if exchanged cations are insufficiently removed) may result in inferior performance of the bentonite in geosynthetic liners.

Potassium bentonite

Also known as potash bentonite or K-bentonite, potassium bentonite is a potassium-rich illitic clay formed from alteration of volcanic ash.


Used in the cosmetics industry, as a decolorizing agent, in polishes and abrasives, and as a food additive. Sodium Bentonite is a highly absorbent material which will swell excessively when wet, but Calcium Bentonite has a very low capacity to swell or absorb water.

Much of bentonite's usefulness in the drilling and geotechnical engineering industry comes from its unique rheological properties. Relatively small quantities of bentonite suspended in water form a viscous, shear thinning material. Most often, bentonite suspensions are also thixotropic, although rare cases of rheopectic behavior have also been reported. At high enough concentrations (~60 grams of bentonite per litre of suspension), bentonite suspensions begin to take on the characteristics of a gel (a fluid with a minimum yield strength required to make it move). For these reasons it is a common component of drilling mud used to curtail drilling fluid invasion by its propensity for aiding in the formation of mud cake.

Bentonite can be used in cement, adhesives, ceramic bodies, and cat litter. Bentonite is also used as a binding agent in the manufacture of taconite pellets as used in the steelmaking industry. Fuller's earth, an ancient dry-cleaning substance, is finely ground bentonite, typically used for purifying transformer oil. Bentonite, in small percentages, is used as an ingredient in commercially designed clay bodies and ceramic glazes. Bentonite clay is also used in pyrotechnics to make end plugs and rocket engine nozzles.

The ionic surface of bentonite has a useful property in making a sticky coating on sand grains. When a small proportion of finely ground bentonite clay is added to hard sand and wetted, the clay binds the sand particles into a moldable aggregate known as green sand used for making molds in sand casting. Some river deltas naturally deposit just such a blend of clay silt and sand, creating a natural source of excellent molding sand that was critical to ancient metalworking technology. Modern chemical processes to modify the ionic surface of bentonite greatly intensify this stickiness, resulting in remarkably dough-like yet strong casting sand mixes that stand up to molten metal temperatures.

The same effluvial deposition of bentonite clay onto beaches accounts for the variety of plasticity of sand from place to place for building sand castles. Beach sand consisting of only silica and shell grains does not mold well compared to grains coated with bentonite clay. This is why some beaches are much better for building sand castles than others.

The self-stickiness of bentonite allows high-pressure ramming or pressing of the clay in molds to produce hard, refractory shapes, such as model rocket nozzles. Indeed, to test whether a particular brand of cat litter is bentonite, simply ram a sample with a hammer into a sturdy tube with a close-fitting rod; bentonite will form a very hard, consolidated plug that is not easily crumbled.

Bentonite also has the interesting property of adsorbing relatively large amounts of protein molecules from aqueous solutions. Therefore, it is uniquely useful in the process of winemaking, where it is used to remove excessive amounts of protein from white wines. Were it not for this use of bentonite, many or most white wines would precipitate undesirable flocculent clouds or hazes upon exposure to warmer temperatures, as these proteins denature. It also has the incidental use of inducing more rapid clarification of both red and white wines.

Bentonite can also be used as a desiccant due to its adsorption properties. Bentonite desiccants have been successfully used to protect pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and diagnostic products from moisture degradation and extend shelf life. In fact, in the most common package environments, Bentonite Desiccants offer a higher adsorption capacity than silica gel desiccants. Bentonite complies with the FDA for contanct with food and drugs.

Shipment / Storage

Mostly shipped in polythene mesh bags or in multi-ply paper sacks.

Risk Factors

The carriage of bentonite poses several risks that need to be managed effectively. Here are the key risks associated with the transport of bentonite:

1. Dust Hazard

  - Inhalation Risks: Bentonite can generate fine dust particles during loading, unloading, and handling. Inhalation of bentonite dust can cause respiratory issues, including silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling silica dust.
  - Mitigation: Use appropriate dust suppression measures such as water sprays, dust extraction systems, and personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and respirators for workers.

2. Health and Safety Hazards

  - Skin and Eye Irritation: Bentonite dust can cause irritation to the skin and eyes upon contact.
  - Mitigation: Workers should wear gloves, safety goggles, and other protective clothing to prevent direct contact with bentonite.

3. Fire and Explosion Risks

  - Dust Explosion: In certain conditions, fine bentonite dust can be combustible and may pose an explosion hazard if suspended in the air and exposed to an ignition source.
  - Mitigation: Ensure proper ventilation and avoid the generation of dust clouds. Implement proper housekeeping practices to minimize dust accumulation.

4. Moisture Sensitivity

  - Cargo Compaction and Hardening: Bentonite is highly absorbent and can absorb moisture during transit, leading to compaction and hardening. This can make unloading difficult and may require additional equipment and labor to discharge.
  - Mitigation: Store bentonite in a dry environment and use moisture barriers or desiccants to reduce moisture exposure during transport.

5. Contamination

  - Cross-Contamination: Bentonite can be easily contaminated by other cargoes if not properly separated. This can compromise the quality of the bentonite and make it unsuitable for certain applications.
  - Mitigation: Use dedicated storage containers and ensure proper sealing to prevent contamination.

6. Environmental Risks

  - Spillage and Contamination: Accidental spillage of bentonite during transportation can cause environmental contamination, particularly to water bodies, where it can cause turbidity and impact aquatic life.
  - Mitigation: Follow proper containment procedures and have spill response plans in place. Use spill-proof containers and ensure secure loading.

7. Handling and Stability Issues

  - Load Shifting: Bentonite in powder form can shift during transport, which may affect the stability of the vessel or vehicle.
  - Mitigation: Properly secure the cargo using techniques like blocking, bracing, and using bulkheads to prevent load shifting.

8. Regulatory Compliance

  - Transport Regulations: Compliance with international and local regulations regarding the transport of bentonite is essential. This includes proper labelling, documentation, and adherence to safety standards.
  - Mitigation: Ensure all regulatory requirements are met and maintain up-to-date documentation and labeling.

By recognising and addressing these risks, the safe and effective transport of bentonite can be ensured. Proper planning, training, and the use of appropriate safety measures are crucial in mitigating these risks.

Note: Consult the applicable MSDS sheet for further verification