Synergistic actions of mixed small and large pores for capillary absorption through biporous polymeric materials
Water absorption in porous media is an important process involved in numerous materials for various applications, such as in the building industry, food processing and bioengineering. Designing new materials with appropriate absorption properties requires an understanding of how absorption behavior depends on both the material's morphology and the properties of the solid matrix, i.e. hydrophilic/hydrophobic nature and swelling/deformation properties. Although the basic principles of imbibition are well-known for simple porous systems, much less is known about absorption in complex porous systems, in particular those containing several coexisting porous phases, such as wood for example. Here, water absorption is studied for model porous organic materials exhibiting several degrees of hydrophobicity and two pore size levels, either as monoporous materials (large or small pores) or as biporous materials (mixed large and small pores). The interconnected biporous structure is designed via a double porogen templating approach using cubic sodium chloride particles as templates for the generation of the larger pore size (250–400 μm) and i-PrOH as a porogenic solvent for the smaller pore size (2–5 μm). While absorption for the small pore material is well described by the classical Washburn theory, the large pore material shows a drastic reduction in the imbibition rate. This behavior is attributed to the slow breakthrough mechanism for the water interface at sharp edge connections between pores. Remarkably, this slow regime is suppressed for the biporous material and the imbibition rate is even higher than the sum of rates obtained for its monoporous counterparts, which highlights the synergistic action of mixed small and large pores.