A means to an interface: investigating monoethanolamine behavior at an aqueous surface†
The use of amine scrubbers to trap carbon dioxide from flue gas streams is one of the most promising avenues for atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction. However, modifications are necessary to efficiently scale these scrubbers for use in fossil fuel plants. Current advances in tailoring amines for CO2 capture involve improvements of bulk kinetic and thermodynamic parameters, with little consideration to surface chemistry and behavior. Aqueous alkanolamine solutions, such as monoethanolamine (MEA), are currently highly favored sorbents in CO2 post-combustion capture. Although numerous studies have explored MEA–CO2 chemistry at the macroscopic scale, few have investigated the role of the interface in the gas adsorption process. Additionally, as these amines become more industrially ubiquitous, their presence on and the need to understand their behavior at atmospheric and environmental surfaces will increase. This study investigates the surface behavior of monoethanolamine at the vapor/water interface, with particular focus on MEA's surface orientation and footprint. Using vibrational sum frequency spectroscopy, surface tensiometry, and computational techniques, MEA is found to adopt a constrained gauche interfacial conformation with its methylene backbone oriented toward the vapor phase and its functional groups solvated in the bulk solution. Computational and experimental analysis agree well, giving a complete picture with vibrational mode assignments and surface orientation of MEA. These findings can assist in the tailoring of amine structures or to facilitate improvements in engineering design to exploit favorable surface chemistry, as well as to serve as a starting point toward understanding aqueous amine surface behavior relevant to environmental systems.