Peter Beltramo of the Chemical Engineering Department has received a grant of $110,000 over two years for his research project on "Interferometric Imaging and Assembly of Nanoparticles at Fluid Interfaces" from the American Chemical Society (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund. As he says, “We will develop new imaging techniques to understand the electric field response of colloidal particles pinned at liquid-liquid interfaces. This work could lead to new strategies for oil extraction, where electric fields could be used to break down and separate water-in-oil emulsions, which is of great interest to the petroleum field.”
The Beltramo Research Group focuses on applying fundamental engineering principles to understand and engineer interfacial processes.
As Beltramo explains, “Interfaces are everywhere, so our research has applications ranging from creating biomimetic materials for drug delivery to fabricating novel colloidal materials and coatings to stabilizing emulsions in the food and petroleum industry. We use well-defined model experiments to duplicate the essential physics of these intricate problems, building in complexity through a bottom-up approach as we go along.”
In the abstract for his ACS proposal, Beltramo notes that liquid interfaces are commonplace in the emulsions and foams present in numerous products. Interest in the behavior of particles at interfaces originated with the discovery of solid-stabilized emulsions in the early 1900s. He goes on to say that solid particles at liquid interfaces are ubiquitous in oil extraction: oily sludge is a water-oil emulsion stabilized by several kinds of emulsifiers such as asphaltenes, resins, organic acids, and finely divided solids.
Among other methods, says Beltramo, electric field de-emulsification has been studied because it can be applied without the need for chemical additives, mechanical equipment, or heating elements. However, there remains a lack of a mechanistic understanding of how particles pinned at liquid interfaces respond to the external field in order to destabilize particle-laden droplets.
“For instance,” Beltramo asks, “how does the contact angle and orientation of a particle change with the addition of an electric potential? How does this potential effect the interparticle potential and subsequent microstructure at the interface? These are questions we seek to answer in the proposed work.”
According to the ACS, its "Doctoral New Investigator grants provide start-up funding for scientists and engineers in the United States who are within the first three years of their first academic appointment at the level of assistant professor or the equivalent…The program aims to promote the careers of young faculty by supporting research of high scientific caliber and to enhance the career opportunities of their undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates through the research experience." (August 2019)