American Chemical Society
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Facile and Robust Production of Ultrastable Micrometer-Sized Foams

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 21:33 authored by Mariana Rodríguez-Hakim, Luka Oblak, Jan Vermant
Stable foams that can resist disproportionation for extended periods of time have important applications in a wide range of technological and consumer materials. Yet, legislative initiatives limit the range of surface active materials that can be used for environmental impact reasons. There is a need for technologies to efficiently produce multiphase materials using more eco-friendly components, such as particles, and for which traditional thermodynamics-based processing routes are not necessarily efficient enough. This work describes an innovative foaming technology that can produce ultrastable Pickering-Ramsden foams, with bubbles of micrometer-sized dimensions, through pressure-induced particle densification. Specifically, aqueous nanosilica-stabilized foams are produced by foaming a suspension at subatmospheric pressures, allowing for adsorption of the particles onto large bubbles. This is followed by an increase back to atmospheric pressure, which induces bubble shrinkage and compresses the adsorbed particle interface, forming a strong elastoplastic network that provides mechanical resistance against disproportionation. The foam’s interfacial mechanical properties are quantified to predict the range of processing conditions needed to produce permanently stable foams, and a general stability criterion is derived by considering the interfacial rheological properties under slow, unidirectional compression. Foams that are stable against disproportionation are characterized by interfaces whose mechanical resistance to compressive deformations can withstand their tendency to minimize the interfacial stress by reducing their surface area. Our ultrastable nanosilica foams are tested in real-life applications by introducing them into concrete. In comparison to other commercial air entrainers, our microfoam improves concrete’s freeze–thaw resistance while supplying higher material strength, providing an economically attractive, industrially scalable, and durable alternative for use in real-life applications involving cementitious materials. The applicability of our stability criterion to other rheologically complex interfaces and the versatile nature of our foaming technology enables usage for a broad class of materials, beyond the construction industry.