Bolivian diatomite was successfully used as a silica source for the synthesis of zeolite Y. Prior to synthesis, the diatomite was leached with sulfuric acid to remove impurities and aluminum sulfate was used as an aluminum source. The raw materials were reacted hydrothermally at 100 °C in water with sodium hydroxide and different Na2O/SiO2 ratios were investigated. The final products were characterized by scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, gas adsorption and inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy. Diatomites originating from different locations and therefore containing different types and amounts of minerals and clays as impurities were investigated. After optimization of synthesis time, zeolite Y with low SiO2/Al2O3 ratio (3.0-3.9) was obtained at a high yield for high alkalinity conditions (Na2O/SiO2 = 0.85-2.0). Lower Na2O/SiO2 ratios resulted in incomplete dissolution of diatomite and lower yield. Nevertheless, decreasing alkalinity resulted in a steady increase of the SiO2/Al2O3 ratio in zeolite Y. Consequently, it was possible to synthesize almost pure zeolite Y with a SiO2/Al2O3 ratio of 5.3 for a Na2O/SiO2 ratio of 0.6, albeit at a low yield. In this respect, diatomite enables the synthesis of high silica zeolite Y and behaves similarly to colloidal silica in traditional syntheses, with both sources of silica having in common a high degree of polymerization. Interestingly, the presence of minerals and clays in the starting diatomite had marginal effects on the outcome of the synthesis. However, their dissolution resulted in presence of calcium and magnesium in the zeolite Y crystals. Finally, overrun of all investigated compositions resulted in the formation of zeolite P nucleating and growing onto dissolving zeolite Y crystals, which was shown to be triggered when aluminum was completely depleted at high alkalinity.
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