When heated, the mineral zeolite produces large amounts of steam absorbed from the water around it. It was therefore named after the Greek word "zeo" meaning to boil. While zeolite can be found naturally, most commercial uses require synthetic production. Zeolites are commonly used as adsorbents in the nuclear, agricultural, heating, refrigerating, detergent and construction industries. The mineral is even used for detox and kitty litter.
Natural zeolites form on volcanic rocks due to the reaction between alkaline and groundwater. They can also be found in shallow marine basins after forming for thousands or millions of years. Natural zeolite is not as pure as its synthetically made counterpart.
Open pit mining techniques are used in Arkansas, Idaho and New Mexico to mine natural zeolites. The ore is blasted and stripped before processing (crush, dried or milled). Milled ore is shipped in bags or bulk. Crushed ore is screened to remove fine material for a more granular product. Most zeolite is supplied by Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Australia and Asia.
Sol-gel is the name of one of the more popular processes used for synthetic production. The reaction depends on pH levels, seeding time, temperature and the template used. Other metals can be easily added to the mixture. Synthetic zeolites are manufactured with silica and alumina, which are among the most abundant mineral components on earth. Therefore the supply of zeolites is not short; due to its low cost, it is used and made available by a large number of industries (and in different forms), depending on the process used to manufacture it. Use a comparison website like Nextag to research different types and prices. Zeolite products can also be found in your local mall or home building marketplace.