Diatomaceous Earth: A Marvel of Nature with Industrial Might

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock, composed of the fossilized remains of tiny hard-shelled aquatic organisms called diatoms. These microscopic wonders have intricate, porous skeletons made of silica, which, over millions of years, accumulate in deposits on ocean floors and in ancient lakes. Silica is common in nature, making up 26% of the earth’s crust by weight, and can come in many forms including sand, emerald, quartz, feldspar, mica, clay, asbestos, and glass. Silicon, a component of silica, does not exist naturally in its pure form as it usually reacts with oxygen and water to form silicon dioxide. Silicon dioxide has two naturally occurring forms: crystalline and amorphous. Most diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silicon dioxide (Bunch, Bond and Buhl).

diatomaceous earth

What are some Uses of Diatomaceous Earth?

DE’s remarkable properties make it a versatile substance with a wide range of applications:

  • Filtration: DE is a star in filtration systems. Its porous structure makes it superb at trapping particles, making it ideal for water, beer, and oil filtration, as well as in swimming pool filters.
  • Pest Control: DE is a natural insecticide and pesticide that works by drying out bugs instead of poisoning them. It’s used in agriculture to combat pests and protect stored grains, and it’s even found in pet flea powders.
  • Absorbents: Due to its absorbent nature, DE is used to soak up spills of oil and hazardous materials. It’s also an essential component in cat litter.
  • Abrasives: DE’s gentle abrasive qualities make it suitable for industrial applications such as metal polishing and toothpaste.
  • Additives: It’s an ingredient in products like paints, cosmetics, and even dynamite.

Ways EAG Scientists Can Analyze Diatomaceous Earth’s Composition

Analyzing DE’s composition is crucial to ensure its quality and suitability for various applications. Scientists at Eurofins EAG Laboratories (EAG) are equipped and knowledgeable to offer the following techniques.

  • Elemental and Mineralogical Analysis: DE’s chemical composition is routinely analyzed through techniques like X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) to determine the percentage of silica and any impurities like clay, sand, and volcanic ash.  For more comprehensive elemental compositional analysis, a “full scan” of up to 69 elements can be measured using a combination of Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) and Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS).
  • Organics Analysis: DE that has been used for filtration or as an absorbent may be contaminated with oils, grease, or volatile organic compounds.  In the technique Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS), GC resolves the sample components based on volatility, and MS detects and identifies the compounds present.
  • Thermal Analysis: Scientists subject DE to high temperatures to study its thermal stability, which is important for applications involving heat such as using DE as an insulator in fire-resistant safes.  Moisture content can also be determined through Loss on Drying analysis.

When it comes to materials analysis, no other scientific services company offers the breadth of experience, diversity of analytical techniques or technical ingenuity of EAG Laboratories. At EAG, we deliver multi-disciplinary, problem-solving expertise to help our customers accelerate innovation, ensure quality and safety, and protect intellectual property. The world is experiencing a powerful and rapid convergence of science, technology and commerce. Great scientific minds are driving awe-inspiring commercial initiatives, and companies around the globe are seeking the insight and competitive advantage that advanced science can provide. EAG is at the forefront of this revolution ⁠that is changing the way products are developed, designed, manufactured and used by millions of people around the planet. Turn to EAG as we know how to bring the power of science to assist you with your needs.

Works Cited

Bunch, T. R., et al. “Diatomaceous Earth General Fact Sheet.” National Pesticide Information Center. Oregon State University Extension Services, 2013. 20 Sept 2023.

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