Anomalous dispersion of magnetic spiky particles for enhanced oil emulsions/water separation†
In situ effective separation of oil pollutants including oil spills and oil emulsions from water is an emerging technology yet remains challenging. Hydrophobic micro- or nano-materials with ferromagnetism have been explored for oil removal, yet the separation efficiency of an oil emulsion was compromised due to the limited dispersion of hydrophobic materials in water. A surfactant coating on microparticles prevented particle aggregation, but reduced oil absorption and emulsion cleaning ability. Recently, polystyrene microbeads covered with nanospikes have been reported to display anomalous dispersion in phobic media without surfactants. Inspired by this phenomenon, here magnetic microparticles attached with nanospikes were fabricated for enhanced separation of oil emulsions from water. In this design, the particle surfaces were functionalized to be superhydrophobic/superoleophilic for oil absorption, while the surface of the nanospikes prevented particle aggregation in water without compromising surface hydrophobicity. The magnetic spiky particles effectively absorbed oil spills on the water surface, and readily dispersed in water and offered facile cleaning of the oil emulsion. In contrast, hydrophobic microparticles without nanospikes aggregated in water limiting the particle–oil contact, while surfactant coating severely reduced particle hydrophobicity and oil absorption ability. Our work provides a unique application scope for the anomalous dispersity of microparticles and their potential opportunities in effective oil–water separation.