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Bicompartmental Phase Transfer Vehicles Based on Colloidal Dimers

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posted on 26.11.2014, 00:00 authored by Sijia Wang, Ning Wu
Colloidal particles have been used extensively for stabilizing oil–water interfaces in petroleum, food, and cosmetics industries. They have also demonstrated promising potential in the encapsulation and delivery of drugs. Our work is motivated by challenging applications that require protecting and transporting active agents across the water–oil interfaces, such as delivering catalysts to underground oil phase through water flooding for in situ cracking of crude oil. In this Research Article, we successfully design, synthesize, and test a unique type of bicompartmental targeting vehicle that encapsulates catalytic molecules, finds and accumulates at oil–water interface, releases the catalysts toward the oil phase, and performs hydrogenation reaction of unsaturated oil. This vehicle is based on colloidal dimers that possess structural anisotropy between two compartments. We encapsulate active species, such as fluorescent dye and catalytic molecules in one lobe which consists of un-cross-linked polymers, while the other polymeric lobe is highly cross-linked. Although dimers are dispersible in water initially, the un-cross-linked lobe swells significantly upon contact with a trace amount of oil in aqueous phase. The dimers then become amphiphilic, migrate toward, and accumulate at the oil–water interface. As the un-cross-linked lobe swells and eventually dissolves in oil, the encapsulated catalysts are fully released. We also show that hydrogenation of unsaturated oil can be performed subsequently with high conversion efficiency. By further creating the interfacial anisotropy on the dimers, we can reduce the catalyst release time from hundred hours to 30 min. Our work demonstrates a new concept in making colloidal emulsifiers and phase-transfer vehicles that are important for encapsulation and sequential release of small molecules across two different phases.