Modeling diffusion and adsorption in compacted bentonite: A critical review

Ian Charles Bourg, Alain C.M. Bourg, Garrison Sposito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


The current way of describing diffusive transport through compacted clays is a simple diffusion model coupled to a linear adsorption coefficient (Kd). To fit the observed results of cation diffusion, this model is usually extended with an adjustable "surface diffusion" coefficient. Description of the negative adsorption of anions calls for a further adjustment through the use of an "effective porosity". The final model thus includes many fitting parameters. This is inconvenient where predictive modeling is called for (e.g., for waste confinement using compacted clay liners). The diffusion/adsorption models in current use have been derived from the common hydrogeological equation of advection/dispersion/adsorption. However, certain simplifications were also borrowed without questioning their applicability to the case of compacted clays. Among these simplifications, the assumption that the volume of the adsorbed phase is negligible should be discussed. We propose a modified diffusion/adsorption model that accounts for the volume of the adsorbed phase. It suggests that diffusion through highly compacted clay takes place through the interlayers (i.e., in the adsorbed phase). Quantitative prediction of the diffusive flux will necessitate more detailed descriptions of surface reactivity and of the mobility of interlayer species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-302
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Mar 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • Bentonite
  • Diffusion
  • Mechanisms
  • Models


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