One step generation of single-core double emulsions from polymer-osmose-induced aqueous phase separation in polar oil droplets†
Water-in-oil-in-water emulsions (W/O/W) are aqueous droplet(s) embedded within oil droplets dispersed in a continuous water phase. They are attracting interest due to their possible applications from cosmetic to food science since both hydrosoluble and liposoluble cargos can be encapsulated within. They are generally prepared using a one-step or a two-step method, phase inversion and also via spontaneous emulsification. Here, we describe a general and simple one-step method based on hydrophilic polymers dispersed in polar oils to generate osmose-induced diffusion of water into oil droplets, forming polymer-rich aqueous droplets inside the oil droplets. Polyethylene glycol, but also other hydrophilic polymers (branched polyethylene imine or polyvinyl pyrrolidone) were successfully dispersed in 1-octanol or other polar oils (oleic acid or tributyrin) to produce an O/W emulsion that spontaneously transformed into a W1/O/W2 emulsion, with the inner aqueous droplet (W1) only containing the hydrophilic polymer initially dispersed in oil. By combining single drop experiments, with macroscopic viscosity measurements, we demonstrated that the double emulsion resulted of water diffusion, which amplitude could be adjusted by the polymer concentration. The production of high internal phase emulsions was also achieved, together with a pH-induced transition from multiple to single core double emulsion. We expect this new method for producing double emulsions to find applications in domains of microencapsulation and materials chemistry.