Anion Specific Effects Drive the Formation of Li-Salt Based Aqueous Biphasic Systems


Aqueous biphasic systems (ABS) can form when mixing water with two compounds such as polymers, ionic-liquids or simple salts. While this phenomenon has been known for decades and found applications in various fields such as biology, recycling or even more recently electrochemistry, the physics behind the formation of ABSs remains ill-understood. It was recently demonstrated that ABSs can be composed of two salts sharing the same cation (Li+) but different anions (sulfonamide and halide). Interestingly, their formation could not be explained by the position of the anions within the chaotropic/kosmotropic series and was rather proposed to originate from an anion size mismatch, albeit the size for these anions was never measured yet owing to the lack of a proper experimental methodology. Here, we combine experimental techniques and molecular simulations to assess the specific effects (size, shape, hydrophobic/hydrophilic character) of a series of anions and correlate them with the formation of ABSs. We demonstrate that while the anion size mismatch is a prerequisite for the formation of Li-salts based ABSs, their shape can also play an important role, providing general guidelines for forming new ABSs with potential future applications.

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Supplementary material

abs ion size SI