Perlite is an amorphous volcanic glass that has a relatively high water content. It occurs naturally and has the unusual property of greatly expanding when heated sufficiently.
Properties and uses
When it reaches temperatures of 850–900 °C, perlite softens (since it is a glass). Water trapped in the structure of the material escapes and vapourises and this causes the expansion of the material to 7–16 times its original volume. The expanded material is a brilliant white, due to the reflectivity of the trapped bubbles.
Unexpanded ("raw") perlite bulk density: around 1100 kg/m³ (1.1 g/cm³).
Typical expanded perlite bulk density: 30–150 kg/m³.
Due to its low density and relatively low price, many commercial applications for perlite have developed. In the construction and manufacturing fields, it is used in lightweight plasters and mortars, insulation, ceiling tiles and filter aids. In horticulture it makes composts more open to air, while still having good water-retention properties; it makes a good medium for hydroponics. Perlite is also used in foundries, cryogenic insulations, as a lightweight aggregate in mortar (firestop) and in ceramics as a clay additive.
Typical analysis of perlite
70-75% silicon dioxide: SiO2
12-15% aluminium oxide: Al2O3
3-4% sodium oxide: Na2O
3-5% potassium oxide: K2O
0.5-2% iron oxide: Fe2O3
0.2-0.7% magnesium oxide: MgO
0.5-1.5% calcium oxide: CaO
3-5% loss on ignition (chemical / combined water)
In 2001 the cost of perlite was about US$36.31 per metric ton. The yearend price for mined perlite has increased since then:
2001.....$36.3 per metric ton
2002.....$36.5 per metric ton
2003.....$38.2 per metric ton
2004.....$40.6 per metric ton
2005.....$42.5 per metric ton