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Dual Action of Hydrotropes at the Water/Oil Interface

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journal contribution
posted on 12.07.2017, 00:00 by Andrei A. Novikov, Anton P. Semenov, Viviana Monje-Galvan, Vladimir N. Kuryakov, Jeffery B. Klauda, Mikhail A. Anisimov
Hydrotropes are substances containing small amphiphilic molecules, which increase solubility of nonpolar (hydrophobic) substances in water. Hydrotropes may form dynamic clusters (less or about 1 ns lifetime) with water molecules; such clusters can be viewed as “pre-micelles” or as “micellar-like” structural fluctuations. We present the results of experimental and molecular dynamics (MD) simulation studies of interfacial phenomena and liquid–liquid equilibrium in the mixtures of water and cyclohexane with the addition of a typical nonionic hydrotrope, tertiary butanol. The interfacial tension between the aqueous and oil phases was measured by Wilhelmy plate and spinning drop methods with overlapping conditions in excellent agreement between techniques. The correlation length of the concentration fluctuations, which is proportional to the thickness of the interface near the liquid–liquid critical point, was measured by dynamic light scattering. In addition, we studied the interfacial tension and water–oil interfacial profiles by MD simulations of a model representing this ternary system. Both experimental and simulation studies consistently demonstrate a spectacular crossover between two limits in the behavior of the water–oil interfacial properties upon addition of the hydrotrope: at low concentrations the hydrotrope acts as a surfactant, decreasing the interfacial tension by adsorption of hydrotrope molecules on the interface, while at higher concentrations it acts as a cosolvent with the interfacial tension vanishing in accordance with a scaling power-law upon approach to the liquid–liquid critical point. It is found that the relation between the thickness of the interface and the interfacial tension follows a scaling law in the entire range of interfacial tensions, from a “sharp” interface in the absence of the hydrotrope to a “smooth” interface near the critical point. We also demonstrate the generic nature of the dual behavior of hydrotropes by comparing the studied ternary system with systems containing different hydrocarbons and hydrotropes.