Underoil Superhydrophilic Metal Felt Fabricated by Modifying Ultrathin Fumed Silica Coatings for the Separation of Water-in-Oil Emulsions

CL Chen and S Chen and L Chen and YD Yu and D Weng and A Mahmood and JD Wang and IP Parkin and CJ Carmalt, ACS APPLIED MATERIALS & INTERFACES, 12, 27663-27671 (2020).

DOI: 10.1021/acsami.0c03801

Although various superhydrophobic/superoleophilic porous materials have been developed and successfully applied to separate water-in-oil emulsions through the size-sieving mechanism, the separation performance is restricted by their nanoscale pore size severely. In this study, the wettability of underoil water on fumed silica was experimentally observed, and the underlying mechanism was investigated by carrying out theoretical analysis and molecular dynamic (MD) simulations. Further, we present a novel, facile, and an inexpensive technique to fabricate an underoil superhydrophilic metal felt with microscale pores for the separation of water-in-oil emulsions using SiO2 nanoparticles (NPs) as building blocks. The as-prepared underoil superhydrophilic coating is closed-packed and ultrathin (the thickness is approximately hundreds of nanometers), as well as capable of being coated on a metal felt with complex structures without blocking its pores. The as-prepared metal felt could adsorb water droplets directly from oil, which endowed it with the ability to separate both surfactant-free and surfactant- stabilized water-in- oil emulsions with high separation efficiency up to 99.7% even though its pore size is larger than that of the emulsified droplet. The filtration flux for the separation of span 80-stabilized emulsion is up to similar to 4000 L.m(-1).h(-1). Its separation performance is better than most of the other traditional membranes and superwettable materials used for the separation of water-in-oil emulsions. Moreover, the as-prepared metal felt retained outstanding separation performance even after 30 cycles of use, which demonstrated its excellent reusability and durability. Additionally, the distinctive wettability of underoil superhydrophilicity endued coated metal felt with superior antifouling properties toward crude oil. Overall, this study not only provides a new perspective on separating water-in-oil emulsions but also gives a universal approach to develop unique wettability surfaces.

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