Combining Experimental Isotherms, Minimalistic Simulations, and a Model to Understand and Predict Chemical Adsorption onto Montmorillonite Clays.
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An attractive approach to minimize human and animal exposures to toxic environmental contaminants is the use of safe and effective sorbent materials to sequester them. Montmorillonite clays have been shown to tightly bind diverse toxic chemicals. Due to their promise as sorbents to mitigate chemical exposures, it is important to understand their function and rapidly screen and predict optimal clay-chemical combinations for further testing. We derived adsorption free-energy values for a structurally and physicochemically diverse set of toxic chemicals using experimental adsorption isotherms performed in the current and previous studies. We studied the diverse set of chemicals using minimalistic MD simulations and showed that their interaction energies with calcium montmorillonite clays calculated using simulation snapshots in combination with their net charge and their corresponding solvent's dielectric constant can be used as inputs to a minimalistic model to predict adsorption free energies in agreement with experiments. Additionally, experiments and computations were used to reveal structural and physicochemical properties associated with chemicals that can be adsorbed to calcium montmorillonite clay. These properties include positively charged groups, phosphine groups, halide-rich moieties, hydrogen bond donor/acceptors, and large, rigid structures. The combined experimental and computational approaches used in this study highlight the importance and potential applicability of analogous methods to study and design novel advanced sorbent systems in the future, broadening their applicability for environmental contaminants.