Aluminosilicate Mineralogy and the Sorption of Organic Cations: Interplay between Electrostatic Barriers and Compound Structural Features

Current predictive models of organic cation sorption assume that sorbates interact with all sites on aluminosilicate minerals in the same manner. To examine whether differences in aluminosilicate structure and the resultant changes in electrostatic potential influence the sorption of organic cations, seven smectites were chosen with different proportions of isomorphic substitutions (origin of clay charge) located in octahedral versus tetrahedral layers and with the presence or absence of aluminosilicate interlayers. Sorption coefficients for 14 benzylamine derivatives with systematic differences in compound structures were collected to understand the possible influence of aluminosilicate mineralogy. Benzylamine compounds with methyl group substitution on the charged amine or with electron-donating or -withdrawing ring substituents displayed decreases in cation exchange-normalized sorption coefficients (KCEC), by up to one order of magnitude, between hectorite (100% isomorphic substitution in the octahedral layer) and nontronite (100% isomorphic substitution in the tetrahedral layer). To understand this difference across aluminosilicates, stochastic molecular models of the various aluminosilicate minerals with interlayers were performed. These models showed that negative charge density associated with tetrahedral sites results in high positive electrostatic energy barriers within the interlayer, creating a penalty for compounds with positive charge spread over a larger compound surface area as occurs from primary to quaternary amines. Conversely, clays with charge originating from octahedral sites produce low electrostatic potential barriers within the interlayer, decreasing the penalty for quaternary amine sorption. Trends for nine cationic pharmaceutical compounds, which varied in size, group alkylation, and/or polar substituents, demonstrated similar decreases in KCEC values to aluminosilicate minerals with high electrostatic energy barriers. Overall, aluminosilicate mineralogy was found to exert a large influence (0.5–1 order of magnitude in sorption coefficients) on organic cation sorption. The application of atomistic electrostatic potential mapping of both sorbent and sorbate structures provided insights to explain trends in sorption coefficients that could not be described by the basic electrostatic potential theory or by assuming that sorbate structure moieties yielded additive sorption contributions.