Nonlinear Electrokinetics at large applied voltages

Research paper by Martin Z. Bazant, Mustafa Sabri Kilic, Brian D. Storey, Armand Ajdari

Indexed on: 04 Apr '07Published on: 04 Apr '07Published in: Physics - Other


The classical theory of electrokinetic phenomena assumes a dilute solution of point-like ions in chemical equilibrium with a surface whose double-layer voltage is of order the thermal voltage, $k_BT/e = 25$ mV. In nonlinear ``induced-charge'' electrokinetic phenomena, such as AC electro-osmosis, several Volts $\approx 100 k_BT/e$ are applied to the double layer, so the theory breaks down and cannot explain many observed features. We argue that, under such a large voltage, counterions ``condense'' near the surface, even for dilute bulk solutions. Based on simple models, we predict that the double-layer capacitance decreases and the electro-osmotic mobility saturates at large voltages, due to steric repulsion and increased viscosity of the condensed layer, respectively. The former suffices to explain observed high frequency flow reversal in AC electro-osmosis; the latter leads to a salt concentration dependence of induced-charge flows comparable to experiments, although a complete theory is still lacking.