The magic of aqueous solutions of ionic liquids: ionic liquids as a powerful class of catanionic hydrotropes
Hydrotropes are compounds able to enhance the solubility of hydrophobic substances in aqueous media and therefore are widely used in the formulation of drugs, cleaning and personal care products. In this work, it is shown that ionic liquids are a new class of powerful catanionic hydrotropes where both the cation and the anion synergistically contribute to increase the solubility of biomolecules in water. The effects of the ionic liquid chemical structures, their concentration and the temperature on the solubility of two model biomolecules, vanillin and gallic acid were evaluated and compared with the performance of conventional hydrotropes. The solubility of these two biomolecules was studied in the entire composition range, from pure water to pure ionic liquids, and an increase in the solubility of up to 40-fold was observed, confirming the potential of ionic liquids to act as hydrotropes. Using dynamic light scattering, NMR and molecular dynamics simulations, it was possible to infer that the enhanced solubility of the biomolecule in the IL aqueous solutions is related to the formation of ionic-liquid–biomolecules aggregates. Finally, it was demonstrated that hydrotropy induced by ionic liquids can be used to recover solutes from aqueous media by precipitation, simply by using water as an anti-solvent. The results reported here have a significant impact on the understanding of the role of ionic liquid aqueous solutions in the extraction of value-added compounds from biomass as well as in the design of novel processes for their recovery from aqueous media.