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Tracking Molecular Transport Across Oil/Aqueous Interfaces: Insight into “Antagonistic” Binding in Solvent Extraction

Publication Type
Journal Name
The Journal of Physical Chemistry B
Publication Date
Page Numbers
4886 to 4895

Liquid/liquid (L/L) interfaces play a key, yet poorly understood, role in a range of complex chemical phenomena where time-evolving interfacial structures and transient supramolecular assemblies act as gatekeepers to function. Here, we employ surface-specific vibrational sum frequency generation combined with neutron and X-ray scattering methods to track the transport of dioctyl phosphoric acid (DOP) and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phosphoric acid (DEHPA) ligands used in solvent extraction at buried oil/aqueous interfaces away from equilibrium. Our results show evidence for a dynamic interfacial restructuring at low ligand concentrations in contrast to expectation. These time-varying interfaces arise from the transport of sparingly soluble interfacial ligands into the neighboring aqueous phase. These results support a proposed “antagonistic” role of ligand complexation in the aqueous phase that could serve as a holdback mechanism in kinetic liquid extractions. These findings provide new insights into interfacially controlled chemical transport at L/L interfaces and how these interfaces vary chemically, structurally, and temporally in a concentration-dependent manner and present potential avenues to design selective kinetic separations.