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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 20, 2020

A multi-methodological study of kernite, a mineral commodity of boron

  • G. Diego Gatta ORCID logo , Alessandro Guastoni , Paolo Lotti , Giorgio Guastella , Oscar Fabelo and Maria Teresa Fernandez-Diaz
From the journal American Mineralogist


Kernite, ideally Na2B4O6(OH)2∙3H2O, is a major constituent of borate deposits and one of the most important mineral commodities of B. The chemical composition and crystal structure of kernite from the Kramer Deposit (Kern County, California) were investigated by a suite of analytical techniques (i.e., titrimetric determination of B content, gravimetric method for Na, ion selective electrode for F, high-T mass loss for H2O content, inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy for REE and other minor elements, elemental analysis for C, N, and H contents) and single-crystal X‑ray (at 293 K) and neutron (at 20 K) diffraction. The concentrations of more than 50 elements were measured. The general experimental formula of the kernite sample used in this study is Na1.99B3.99O6(OH)2∙3.01H2O. The fraction of other elements is, overall, insignificant: excluding B, kernite from the Kramer Deposit does not act as geochemical trap of other technologically relevant elements (e.g., Li, Be, or REE). The X‑ray and neutron structure model obtained in this study confirms that the structure of kernite is built up by: two (crystallographically independent) triangular BO2OH groups and two tetrahedral BO4 groups, which share corner-bridging O atoms to form threefold rings, giving chains running along [010], and NaO4(OH)(OH2) and NaO2(OH)(OH2)3 polyhedra. Positional disorder of two H sites of H2O molecules was observed by the neutron structure refinement and corroborated by the maximum-entropy method calculation, which consistently provided a model based on a static disorder, rather than a dynamic one. The H-bonding network in the structure of kernite is complex, pervasive, and plays a primary role on its structural stability: the majority of the oxygen sites are involved in H-bonding, as donors or as acceptors. The potential utilizations of kernite, as a source of B (B2O3 ~50 wt%), are discussed, on the basis of the experimental findings of this study.


The Associate Editor and an anonymous reviewer are thanked for their suggestions aimed to improve the quality of the manuscript.

  1. Funding

    The authors thank the Institut Laue-Langevin (Grenoble, France) for the allocation of the neutron beamtime; further information is available under the identifier DOI:10.5291/ILL-DATA.DIR-179. G.D.G. and P.L. acknowledge the support of the Italian Ministry of Education (MIUR) through the projects “Dipartimenti di Eccellenza 2018–2022” and “PRIN2017—Mineral reactivity, a key to understand large-scale processes”. P.L. acknowledges the support of the University of Milan through the project “PSR2018—Georisorse e Geomateriali”.

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Received: 2020-01-08
Accepted: 2020-02-22
Published Online: 2020-09-20
Published in Print: 2020-09-25

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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