Indexed on: 19 Oct '17Published on: 19 Oct '17Published in: Langmuir
Surface interactions involving deformable air bubbles have attracted tremendous interest in a wide range of engineering applications, such as mineral flotation and bitumen extraction. In this work, for the first time, the interaction forces between air bubbles and bitumen surfaces in complex aqueous media of varying pH, salinity and salts were directly measured using a bubble probe atomic force microscope (AFM) technique. The AFM topographic imaging reveals that bitumen surface tends to be rougher and form distinct domains at high NaCl concentration or under strongly alkaline environment. The force measurements demonstrate the critical role of ionic strength and solution pH in bubble-bitumen interaction and attachment, which could be well described by a theoretical model based on Reynolds lubrication theory and augmented Young-Laplace equation by including the effect of disjoining pressure. In 1 mM NaCl, the electrical double layer (EDL) repulsion inhibited bubble-bitumen attachment, and such repulsive effect could be further strengthened with increasing solution pH. In 500 mM NaCl, the hydrophobic attraction could lead to bubble-bitumen attachment, while a high solution pH could weaken the hydrophobic interaction. The addition of calcium ion in 500 mM NaCl could enhance the hydrophobic interaction and facilitate the bubble-bitumen attachment, most likely attributed to the bridging effect between calcium ions and the functional groups (e.g., carboxyl group) of interface-active molecules on bitumen surfaces thus leading to higher surface roughness and hydrophobic moieties/aggregates on bitumen as confirmed by AFM imaging. Our results provide quantitative information on the interaction mechanism between air bubbles and bitumen surfaces in complex aqueous solutions at the nanoscale, which has useful implications on many related interfacial interactions in industrial processes such as oil production, oil-water separation and wastewater treatment.