Molecular dynamics study of the effect of alkyl chain length on melting points of [CnMIM][PF6] ionic liquids†
Based on molecular dynamics simulations, the melting points Tm of a series of 1-alkyl-3-methylimidazolium hexafluorophosphate ionic liquids [CnMIM][PF6] with n = 2, 4, 10, 12, and 14 were studied using the free energy-based pseudosupercritical path (PSCP) method. The experimental trend that the Tm decreases with increasing alkyl chain length for ILs with short alkyl chains and increases for the ones with long alkyl chains was correctly captured. Further analysis revealed that the different trends are the results of the balance between fusion enthalpy and fusion entropy. For the ILs with short alkyl chains (ethyl and butyl groups), fusion entropy plays the dominant role so that [C4MIM][PF6], which has a larger fusion entropy due to its higher liquid phase entropy has the lower melting temperature. As for the ILs with long alkyl chains, due to the enhanced van der Waals interactions brought about by the long non-polar alkyl chains, enthalpy becomes the deciding factor and the melting points increase when the alkyl chain goes from C10 to C14. While the melting points for [C2MIM][PF6] and [C4MIM][PF6] were quantitatively predicted and the trends for the long chain ILs were captured correctly, the absolute melting points for [C10MIM][PF6], [C12MIM][PF6] and [C14MIM][PF6] were systematically overestimated in the simulations. Three possible reasons for the overestimation were studied but all ruled out. Further simulation or experimental studies are needed to explain the difference.