Diatomite, also known as diatomaceous earth, is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. It is composed of the microscopic remains of diatoms, which are single-celled algae with skeletons made of silica. These skeletons accumulate over time, forming deposits of diatomite.


Definition of Diatomite:

Diatomite can be defined as a sedimentary rock or a powder that is primarily composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms. Diatoms are a type of algae that extract silica from water to build their cell walls, and when they die, their silica-rich shells accumulate on the ocean floor or in freshwater bodies, eventually forming diatomite deposits.

Formation Process:

The formation of diatomite involves several steps:

  1. Growth of Diatoms: Diatoms, which are microscopic algae, grow in aquatic environments such as oceans, lakes, and rivers.
  2. Silica Extraction: Diatoms extract silica from the water and use it to build intricate and porous cell walls, called frustules.
  3. Death and Accumulation: When diatoms die, their frustules sink to the bottom of the water body, accumulating over time. The accumulation of diatomaceous material can form layers or deposits.
  4. Consolidation: Over millions of years, the accumulated diatomaceous material undergoes compaction and consolidation, resulting in the formation of diatomite rock.
  5. Mining: Diatomite deposits are typically mined from quarries or pits, and the material is processed to obtain the desired product, which is often a fine powder.

Importance and Applications:

Diatomite has several important applications due to its unique properties:

  1. Filter Aid: Diatomite is widely used as a filtration aid. Its porous structure and high surface area make it effective for removing impurities from liquids, such as in the production of beer, wine, and various industrial processes.
  2. Absorbent: Diatomite’s high absorbent capacity makes it useful in applications such as cat litter and spill absorbents.
  3. Insecticide: Diatomaceous earth is used as a natural insecticide. It absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects, leading to dehydration and death.
  4. Agriculture: Diatomite is used in agriculture as a soil conditioner and as an additive to improve the water retention and nutrient content of soils.
  5. Industrial Applications: It is used in various industrial applications, including in the production of ceramics, paints, plastics, and construction materials.
  6. Food and Beverage Industry: Diatomite is employed in the food and beverage industry for filtration in the processing of sugar, oils, and beverages.
  7. Medical and Cosmetic Uses: In some medical and cosmetic products, diatomite is used as a mild abrasive and a thickening agent.

Due to its versatile properties, diatomite plays a crucial role in various industries and has become an essential resource in a wide range of applications.

Geological Background

Diatomit; Ein Diatomit von einem Aufschluss nahe Lompoc, Santa Barbara County, California. Das Gestein ist sehr leicht, mit einem spezifischen Gewicht von etwa 0,7g/cm3. Es spaltet leicht parallel zur Schichtung und ist sehr weich. Es besteht hauptsächlich aus Bruchstücken von Diatomeenskeletten, also Opal-A, mit etwas umgelagertem Opal und Tonmineralen. Größe des Stücks 78 x 45mm.; https://www.mineralienatlas.de/lexikon/index.php/Bildanzeige?pict=1412458846

Diatomite is a sedimentary rock that has a biological origin, meaning it is formed from the accumulated remains of microscopic organisms. The primary contributors to diatomite formation are diatoms, which are single-celled algae with a unique cell wall made of silica. These diatoms flourish in aquatic environments, and when they die, their silica skeletons sink to the bottom, forming deposits that, over time, consolidate into diatomite rock.

Origin and Formation:

The formation of diatomite involves a series of steps:

  1. Diatom Growth: Diatoms live in water, both marine and freshwater environments. They extract silica from the water and use it to build intricate, porous structures called frustules.
  2. Diatom Death: When diatoms die, their silica-rich frustules sink to the bottom of the water body. The accumulation of these skeletons forms a sediment known as diatomaceous earth.
  3. Deposition: Over time, the diatomaceous earth undergoes compaction and consolidation, often aided by microbial activity and other geological processes.
  4. Conversion to Diatomite Rock: Continued geological processes, including pressure and cementation, lead to the transformation of diatomaceous earth into solid diatomite rock.

Distribution and Occurrence:

Diatomite deposits are found worldwide, with varying degrees of purity and geological settings. Key locations include:

  1. Marine Deposits: Diatomite can accumulate in marine environments, especially in areas with high diatom productivity. Oceanic regions with upwelling currents can promote the growth of diatoms, contributing to the formation of marine diatomite.
  2. Freshwater Deposits: Diatomite also forms in freshwater environments, such as lakes and rivers, where diatoms thrive and create deposits of freshwater diatomite.
  3. Volcanic Influence: Some diatomite deposits are associated with volcanic activity. Volcanic ash may provide a source of nutrients, promoting the growth of diatoms in adjacent bodies of water.
  4. Age of Deposits: Diatomite deposits can range in age from recent to tens of millions of years old, reflecting the geological history of the Earth.

Notable deposits are found in regions such as the United States, China, Denmark, Mexico, and other parts of the world.

Composition and Structure:

  1. Silica Content: The primary component of diatomite is silica, mainly in the form of amorphous opaline silica. This silica is derived from the frustules of diatoms.
  2. Pore Structure: Diatomite is characterized by a highly porous structure due to the arrangement of the diatom skeletons. This porosity gives diatomite its unique properties, making it useful in various industrial applications, especially as a filter aid.
  3. Organic Content: In addition to silica, diatomite may contain varying amounts of organic material, clay minerals, and other impurities.
  4. Microscopic Fossils: Microscopic examination of diatomite often reveals well-preserved diatom frustules, providing valuable information about the species that contributed to the formation of the rock.

Understanding the geological background, origin, distribution, and composition of diatomite is crucial for its industrial applications and provides insights into Earth’s environmental history.

Diatom Characteristics


Diatoms are a group of algae characterized by their unique features, and they play a significant role in the formation of diatomite. Here are some key characteristics of diatoms:

  1. Single-Celled: Diatoms are unicellular organisms, and each cell is encased in a protective, intricate cell wall called a frustule.
  2. Photosynthetic: Diatoms are photosynthetic organisms, utilizing sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds. They are a crucial component of marine and freshwater ecosystems, contributing to primary production.
  3. Silica Cell Wall (Frustule): The defining feature of diatoms is their cell wall, or frustule, which is composed primarily of silica. The frustule has a two-part structure, with an overlapping top (epitheca) and bottom (hypotheca) valve. The intricate patterns on the frustule are species-specific.
  4. Bilateral Symmetry: Diatoms exhibit bilateral symmetry, meaning they can be divided into two equal halves along a central axis.
  5. Reproduction: Diatoms reproduce both sexually and asexually. Asexual reproduction often involves cell division, resulting in two daughter cells within the original frustule.
  6. Wide Diversity: There is a wide diversity of diatom species, adapted to various environmental conditions. Their abundance and diversity make them important contributors to phytoplankton communities.

Overview of Diatoms:

Diatoms are found in a variety of aquatic environments, including oceans, lakes, rivers, and even moist soil. They play a crucial role in nutrient cycling and food webs, serving as a food source for various aquatic organisms. The abundance and diversity of diatoms make them valuable indicators of environmental conditions and water quality.

Diatom Fossilization:

The fossilization of diatoms is a key aspect of diatomite formation. The process involves the preservation of the silica frustules over geological time. The steps include:

  1. Death and Settlement: When diatoms die, their frustules sink to the bottom of the water body, accumulating in sediment.
  2. Compaction: Over time, the accumulated diatomaceous sediment undergoes compaction due to the weight of overlying layers.
  3. Cementation: The compaction is often accompanied by cementation, where minerals or other substances bind the frustules together.
  4. Conversion to Diatomite: Continued geological processes, including pressure and temperature changes, lead to the transformation of diatomaceous sediment into solid diatomite rock.

Microscopic Features:

  1. Frustule Morphology: Diatom frustules exhibit a wide range of morphologies, including circular, elliptical, and even ribbon-shaped forms. The intricate patterns on the frustules are unique to each species, allowing for the identification of diatom taxa based on these microscopic features.
  2. Porosity: The frustules contribute to the porosity of diatomite, making it valuable for applications such as filtration.
  3. Size Range: Diatoms can vary widely in size, with some species being visible to the naked eye, while others are microscopic.
  4. Color: The color of diatoms can vary, but they are often brown or golden due to the presence of pigments such as chlorophyll and carotenoids.

Microscopic examination of diatom frustules is essential for understanding diatom taxonomy, ecology, and their role in the geological record. The well-preserved nature of diatom fossils contributes to their significance in environmental and paleoecological studies.

Types of Diatomite


Diatomite can be classified into different types based on various factors such as its origin, composition, and purity. Here are some common types of diatomite:

  1. Marine Diatomite:
    • Origin: Formed in marine environments, typically in the sediments of oceans or seas.
    • Characteristics: Contains diatoms that thrived in saltwater conditions. Marine diatomite may have a higher salt content compared to freshwater diatomite.
  2. Freshwater Diatomite:
    • Origin: Formed in freshwater environments, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds.
    • Characteristics: Contains diatoms adapted to freshwater conditions. Freshwater diatomite is often associated with lacustrine (lake) or fluvial (river) deposits.
  3. High Purity Diatomite:
    • Composition: Diatomite with a high percentage of pure silica. It is valued for its use in applications where purity is critical, such as in the production of pharmaceuticals or high-performance filters.
  4. Natural Grade Diatomite:
    • Composition: Diatomite with a natural mix of silica and impurities. It is often used in less demanding applications, such as in agriculture or as a soil conditioner.
  5. Calcined Diatomite:
    • Treatment: Diatomite that has undergone a process called calcination, involving the heating of the material to high temperatures.
    • Purpose: Calcination alters the physical and chemical properties of diatomite, making it more porous and increasing its thermal stability. This type is often used in applications like filtration and as a functional additive in various industries.
  6. Amorphous Diatomite:
    • Structure: Diatomite with a predominantly amorphous (non-crystalline) structure.
    • Characteristics: Amorphous diatomite is known for its high surface area and absorbent properties, making it suitable for uses like cat litter and absorbents.
  7. Flux-Calcined Diatomite:
    • Processing: Diatomite that has undergone flux-calcination, a specialized calcination process involving the addition of fluxing agents.
    • Purpose: Flux-calcined diatomite has improved thermal and chemical properties, making it suitable for applications in the production of refractories, catalyst supports, and other high-temperature processes.
  8. Diatomaceous Earth (DE):
    • General Term: Often used as a generic term for both natural and calcined diatomite.
    • Usage: Diatomaceous earth is widely used in various applications, including filtration, insecticides, absorbents, and as a soil amendment.

The classification of diatomite types is often based on the specific requirements of industries and applications. The diverse characteristics of diatomite make it a versatile material with a wide range of uses across various sectors.

Properties of Diatomite


Diatomite possesses several distinctive properties that make it valuable for a variety of industrial, agricultural, and commercial applications. Here are some key properties of diatomite:

  1. Porosity and Permeability:
    • Property: Diatomite is highly porous, containing a network of microscopic pores and voids.
    • Significance: This property makes diatomite an excellent filter medium, allowing for effective filtration of liquids and gases. The porosity also contributes to its use as an absorbent material.
  2. High Surface Area:
    • Property: Diatomite has a high surface area due to the intricate structure of diatom frustules.
    • Significance: The high surface area enhances the adsorption capacity of diatomite, making it effective for applications such as water purification, adsorption of pollutants, and as a carrier for catalysts.
  3. Absorbency:
    • Property: Diatomite is highly absorbent.
    • Significance: This property is exploited in applications such as cat litter, spill absorbents, and filtration processes where absorption of liquids is essential.
  4. Low Density:
    • Property: Diatomite has a low density.
    • Significance: The low density contributes to its use as a lightweight aggregate in the construction industry and as a component in lightweight concrete.
  5. Abrasive Properties:
    • Property: Diatomite can have abrasive properties.
    • Significance: In some formulations, diatomite is used as a mild abrasive in products like toothpaste, polishes, and facial scrubs.
  6. Thermal Insulation:
    • Property: Diatomite exhibits thermal insulation properties.
    • Significance: These properties make diatomite suitable for applications in insulation materials, fireproofing, and in the production of refractories.
  7. Chemical Stability:
    • Property: Diatomite is generally chemically stable.
    • Significance: This stability makes diatomite suitable for use in various chemical processes, including filtration of corrosive liquids.
  8. Biological Inertness:
    • Property: Diatomite is biologically inert.
    • Significance: The inert nature of diatomite makes it safe for use in applications such as food and beverage processing, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.
  9. High Silica Content:
    • Property: Diatomite is composed mainly of silica.
    • Significance: The high silica content contributes to the hardness and durability of diatomite. It is also a key factor in its filtration and adsorption capabilities.
  10. Friction Properties:
    • Property: Diatomite can exhibit low friction properties.
    • Significance: This property is relevant in certain industrial applications, including as a component in the production of antislip coatings and materials.
  11. pH Stability:
    • Property: Diatomite is generally pH-stable.
    • Significance: The pH stability of diatomite is advantageous in applications where maintaining a specific pH level is critical, such as in water treatment processes.

Understanding these properties allows for the effective utilization of diatomite in various applications across different industries. The specific properties can be tailored based on the processing methods and the intended use of the diatomite product.

Applications and Uses Areas


Diatomite has a wide range of applications across various industries due to its unique properties. Here are some of the key application areas and uses of diatomite:

  1. Filtration:
    • Application: Diatomite is widely used as a filter aid in the filtration of liquids. It is particularly effective in removing fine particles and impurities from beverages, oils, pharmaceuticals, and industrial processes.
  2. Absorbents:
    • Application: Diatomite’s high absorbent capacity makes it suitable for use in absorbent products such as cat litter, spill absorbents, and industrial cleanup materials.
  3. Insecticides:
    • Application: Diatomaceous earth, a type of diatomite, is used as a natural insecticide. It works by absorbing lipids from the exoskeleton of insects, leading to dehydration and death.
  4. Agriculture:
    • Application: Diatomite is used in agriculture as a soil conditioner. It improves soil structure, enhances water retention, and provides essential minerals for plant growth.
  5. Construction and Lightweight Concrete:
    • Application: Diatomite can be used as a lightweight aggregate in the production of lightweight concrete. Its low density contributes to the creation of lightweight building materials.
  6. Thermal Insulation:
    • Application: Diatomite’s thermal insulation properties make it suitable for use in insulation materials, fireproofing, and as a component in refractory materials.
  7. Catalyst Supports:
    • Application: Calcined diatomite is used as a catalyst support in various chemical processes, contributing to the efficiency of catalytic reactions.
  8. Paints and Coatings:
    • Application: Diatomite is used as a filler in paints and coatings, providing reinforcement and improving the texture of the finished product.
  9. Medical and Pharmaceutical:
    • Application: Diatomite is used in the pharmaceutical industry for filtering and purifying pharmaceutical products. It may also be used in some medical products.
  10. Cosmetics:
    • Application: Diatomite is used in cosmetics as a mild abrasive in exfoliating products such as facial scrubs and toothpaste.
  11. Water Treatment:
    • Application: Diatomite is employed in water treatment processes to remove impurities and contaminants, contributing to the purification of drinking water.
  12. Food and Beverage Processing:
    • Application: Diatomite is used in the food and beverage industry for filtration during the processing of sugar, oils, beer, wine, and other beverages.
  13. Plastics and Rubber Industry:
    • Application: Diatomite is used as a filler in the production of plastics and rubber, improving mechanical properties and reducing costs.
  14. Geological and Environmental Studies:
    • Application: Diatomite deposits and the analysis of diatom fossils are used in geological and environmental studies to understand past environmental conditions and changes.
  15. Renewable Energy:
    • Application: Diatomite has been explored for potential use in energy storage and battery technologies due to its unique porous structure and high surface area.

The versatility of diatomite and its ability to meet various industrial needs have contributed to its widespread use in diverse applications across different sectors. The specific type of diatomite and its processing can be tailored to meet the requirements of specific applications.