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At the interface between two regions, for example the air–liquid interface of a lipid solution, there can arise non-equilibrium situations. The water chemical potential corresponding to the ambient RH will, in general, not match the water chemical potential of the solution, and the gradients in chemical potential cause diffusional flows. If the bulk water chemical potential is close to a phase transition, there is the possibility of forming an interfacial phase with structures qualitatively different from those found in the bulk. Based on a previous analysis of this phenomenon in two component systems (C. Åberg, E. Sparr, K. J. Edler and H. Wennerström, Langmuir, 2009, 25, 12177), we here analyse the phenomenon for three-component systems. The relevant transport equations are derived, and explicit results are given for some limiting cases. Then the formalism is applied conceptually to four different aqueous lipid systems, which in addition to water and a phospholipid contain (i) octyl glucoside, (ii) urea, (iii) heavy water, and (iv) sodium cholate as the third component. These four cases are chosen to illustrate (i) a method to use a micelle former to transport lipid to the interface where a multi-lamellar structure can form; (ii) to use a co-solvent to inhibit the formation of a gel phase at the interface; (iii) a method to form pure phospholipid multi-lamellar structures at the interface; (iv) a method to form a sequence of phases in the interfacial region. These four cases all have the character of theoretically based conjectures and it remains to investigate experimentally whether or not the conditions can be realized in practice.
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