Perlite is an amorphous volcanic glass that has a relatively high water content, typically formed by the hydration of obsidian. It occurs naturally and has the unusual property of greatly expanding when heated sufficiently. It is an industrial mineral and a commercial product useful for its light weight after processing.
Perlite softens when it reaches temperatures of 850–900 °C (1,560–1,650 °F). Water trapped in the structure of the material vaporises and escapes, and this causes the expansion of the material to 7–16 times its original volume. The expanded material is a brilliant white, due to the reflectivity of the trapped bubbles. Unexpanded ("raw") perlite has a bulk density around 1100 kg/m3 (1.1 g/cm3), while typical expanded perlite has a bulk density of about 30–150 kg/m3 (0.03-0.150 g/cm3).
Typical analysis of perlite
- 70–75% silicon dioxide: SiO2
- 12–15% aluminium oxide: Al2O3
- 3–4% sodium oxide: Na2O
- 3–5% potassium oxide: K2O
- 0.5-2% iron oxide: Fe2O3
- 0.2–0.7% magnesium oxide: MgO
- 0.5–1.5% calcium oxide: CaO
- 3–5% loss on ignition (chemical / combined water)
Production and uses
Perlite is a non-renewable resource. The world reserves of perlite are estimated at 700 million tonnes. In 2011, 1.7 million tonnes were produced, mostly by Greece (500,000 t), United States (375,000 t) and Turkey (220,000 t). However, no information for China – a leading producer – was available. As of 2003[update], Greece was a leader in processed perlite production; however, estimates of perlite production from the report USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries 2013 indicate that the U.S. may have overtaken Greece.
Because of its low density and relatively low price (about US$50 per tonne of unexpanded perlite), many commercial applications for perlite have developed. In the construction and manufacturing fields, it is used in lightweight plasters, concrete and mortar (masonry), insulation and ceiling tiles. In horticulture, perlite can be used as a soil amendment or alone as a medium for hydroponics or for starting cuttings. When used as an amendment it has high permeability / low water retention and helps prevent soil compaction. Perlite is an excellent filtration aid and is used extensively as an alternative to diatomaceous earth. The popularity of perlite usage as a filter medium is growing considerably worldwide. Perlite filters are fairly commonplace in filtering beer before it is bottled.
Perlite can be substituted for all of its uses. Substitutes include:
- Expanded clay aggregate, an alternative lightweight filler for building materials
- Biochar, the large surface area of carbon molecules increases the soil structure, aeration, nutrient and water retention capacity. Biochar creates a healthy soil in which micro-organisms thrive
- Vermiculite, many expanders of perlite are also exfoliating vermiculite and belong to both trade associations
- Diatomite, used for filter-aids
- Industrial minerals
- Mortar (firestop)
- Perlite, USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries 2011
- USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries (PDF), 2013
- Wallace P. Bolen Perlite USGS 2009 Minerals Yearbook
- "ISU Extension News Release". iastate.edu.
- Emulsion explosive composition containing expanded perlite United States Patent 4940497
- "Perlite". U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries,: 122–123. January 2006. .
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