Destabilization of Oil-in-Water Emulsions Stabilized by Non-ionic Surfactants: Effect of Particle Hydrophilicity

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We investigate the use of particle hydrophilicity as a tool for emulsion destabilization in Triton-X-100-stabilized hexadecane-in-water emulsions. The hydrophilicity of the particles added to the aqueous phase was found to have a pronounced effect on the stability of the emulsion. Specifically, the addition of hydrophilic fumed silica particles to the aqueous phase resulted in coarsening of the emulsion droplets, with droplet flocculation observed at higher particle concentrations. On the other hand, when partially hydrophobic fumed silica particles were added to the aqueous phase, coarsening of the emulsion droplets was observed at low particle concentrations and phase separation of oil and water was observed at higher particle concentrations. Surface tension and interfacial tension measurements showed significant depletion of the surfactant from the aqueous phase in the presence of the partially hydrophobic particles. The observed changes in the stability of the emulsion and the depletion of the surfactant can be rationalized in terms of changes in the adsorption behavior of the surfactant molecules, from one dominated by hydrogen bonding on hydrophilic particles to one dominated by hydrophobic interactions on partially hydrophobic particles. Our findings also provide, for the first time, an in-depth understanding of antagonistic (destabilizing) effects in mixtures of partially hydrophobic particles and a non-ionic surfactant (Triton X-100) in water.

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