Attapulgite is a term that is synonymous with the more commonly used palygorskite. While palygorskite is the formal name used in the mineral nomenclature, attapulgite is still recognized commercially in the many products made from it. Attapulgite’s structure is commonly called a “chain-layer” or “ribbon-layer” silicate due to its unique mineral structure that manifests ribbons of alumino-silicate layers to be joined at their edges. Unlike bentonite (or montmorillonite), attapulgite crystals are needle shaped (acicular) rather than flat or flake-like. The result is a mineralogical version of organized Swiss cheese where the voids in the structure can be filled with liquids of all types. This structure produces a magnesium aluminum silicate clay of very fine particle size, or a micro-sponge that is naturally designed to absorb liquids. Attapulgites disperse well and exhibit excellent thickening, suspending and gelling properties without flocculation problems.
Attapulgite is also known as Fullers Earth and is closely related to sepiolite minerals. It has been mined in Georgia and Florida since the 1930s. These deposits are known around the world for their light tan to white color, high sorption capability, and very strong particle integrity. Attapulgite is used mainly in oil and grease absorbents, pet litter, soil amendments, and as a component of drilling muds.