Crystal-chemistry control of the mechanical properties of 2:1 clay minerals

Jeremie Berthonneau, Christian G. Hoover, Olivier Grauby, Alain Baronnet, Roland J.M. Pellenq, Franz Josef Ulm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Clay minerals are the main constituents of the clay matrix of a wide variety of sedimentary deposits. When subjected to burial, some of these minerals undergo phase transitions accompanied by atomic substitutions which ultimately impact the cohesive interactions between their constitutive layers. The most common among such transitions is smectite illitization, which is also highly relevant for oil and gas exploration and production from source rocks. The impact of this transition on the mechanical properties of clay minerals as well as clay bearing rocks remains, however, to be properly addressed. To this end, a set of macroscopic single 2:1 clay minerals (pyrophyllite, talc, vermiculite, phlogopite, muscovite, and clintonite) representative of the two octahedral fillings and the variation in surface charge densities was investigated. A hybrid experimental-modeling approach is proposed, which combines nanoindentation in orthogonal directions (x1 and x3-directions) with analytical derivations of the cohesive energy (Ui) using XRD and TEM-EDS measurements. The results highlight that the interlayer energy defines the elasticity (modulus M), strength (hardness H) and ductility behavior (M/H) of these materials; and not the bond energy stored into the constituent layers. This finding permits the derivation of predictive stiffness and strength functional relations as derivatives of the interlayer energy that account for the arrangement of nanoscale layers and the interlayer composition. These relations suggest that as the cohesion increases with the coulombic interactions through progressive smectite illitization, the system loses its capacity to dissipate applied energy by dislocation mechanisms in between the layers, entailing an increase in brittleness of the clay particles with burial. By way of conclusion, the geophysics and geochemistry implications of these results for predicting the macroscopic mechanical performance of clay bearing geomaterials, such as economically valuable source rocks, are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-398
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Clay Science
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Clay minerals
  • Ductility
  • Elasticity
  • Hardness
  • Interlayer interactions
  • Nanoindentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geology
  • Soil Science


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