Atomistic simulations of cation hydration in sodium and calcium montmorillonite nanopores

GM Yang and I Neretnieks and M Holmboe, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 147, 084705 (2017).

DOI: 10.1063/1.4992001

During the last four decades, numerous studies have been directed to the swelling smectite-rich clays in the context of high-level radioactive waste applications and waste-liners for contaminated sites. The swelling properties of clay mineral particles arise due to hydration of the interlayer cations and the diffuse double layers formed near the negatively charged montmorillonite (MMT) surfaces. To accurately study the cation hydration in the interlayer nanopores of MMT, solvent-solute and solvent-clay surface interactions (i.e., the solvation effects and the shape effects) on the atomic level should be taken into account, in contrast to many recent electric double layer based methodologies using continuum models. Therefore, in this research we employed fully atomistic simulations using classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, the software package GROMACS along with the CLAYFF forcefield and the SPC/E water model. We present the ion distributions and the deformation of the hydrated coordination structures, i.e., the hydration shells of Na+ and Ca2+ in the interlayer, respectively, for MMT in the first-layer, the second-layer, the third-layer, the fourth- layer, and the fifth-layer (1W, 2W, 3W, 4W, and 5W) hydrate states. Our MD simulations show that Na+ in Na-MMT nanopores have an affinity to the ditrigonal cavities of the clay layers and form transient inner-sphere complexes at about 3.8 angstrom from clay midplane at water contents less than the 5W hydration state. However, these phenomena are not observed in Ca-MMT regardless of swelling states. For Na-MMT, each Na+ is coordinated to four water molecules and one oxygen atom of the clay basal-plane in the first hydration shell at the 1W hydration state, and with five to six water molecules in the first hydration shell within a radius of 3.1 angstrom at all higher water contents. In Ca-MMT, however each Ca2+ is coordinated to approximately seven water molecules in the first hydration shell at the 1W hydration state and about eight water molecules in the first hydration shell within a radius of 3.3 angstrom at all higher hydration states. Moreover, the MD results show that the complete hydration shells are nearly spherical with an orthogonal coordination sphere. They could only be formed when the basal spacing d(001) >= 18.7 angstrom, i.e., approximately, the interlayer separation h >= 10 angstrom. Comparison between DFT and MD simulations shows that DFT failed to reproduce the outer-sphere complexes in the Stern-layer (within similar to 5.0 angstrom from the clay basal-plane), observed in the MD simulations. Published by AIP Publishing.

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