Molecular Treatment of Nano-Kaolinite Generations


Attila Taborosi, Robert K. Szilagyi, Balazs Zsirka, Orsolya Fonagy, Erzsebet Horvath, Janos Kristof


Inorganic Chemistry


A procedure is developed for defining a compositionally and structurally realistic, atomic-scale description of exfoliated clay nanoparticles from the kaolinite family of phylloaluminosilicates. By use of coordination chemical principles, chemical environments within a nanoparticle can be separated into inner, outer, and peripheral spheres. The edges of the molecular models of nanoparticles were protonated in a validated manner to achieve charge neutrality. Structural optimizations using semiempirical methods (NDDO Hamiltonians and DFTB formalism) and ab initio density functionals with a saturated basis set revealed previously overlooked molecular origins of morphological changes as a result of exfoliation. While the use of semiempirical methods is desirable for the treatment of nanoparticles composed of tens of thousands of atoms, the structural accuracy is rather modest in comparison to DFT methods. We report a comparative survey of our infrared data for untreated crystalline and various exfoliated states of kaolinite and halloysite. Given the limited availability of experimental techniques for providing direct structural information about nano-kaolinite, the vibrational spectra can be considered as an essential tool for validating structural models. The comparison of experimental and calculated stretching and bending frequencies further justified the use of the preferred level of theory. Overall, an optimal molecular model of the defect-free, ideal nano-kaolinite can be composed with respect to stationary structure and curvature of the potential energy surface using the PW91/SVP level of theory with empirical dispersion correction (PW91+D) and polarizable continuum solvation model (PCM) without the need for a scaled quantum chemical force field. This validated theoretical approach is essential in order to follow the formation of exfoliated clays and their surface reactivity that is experimentally unattainable.



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