Focusing, sorting, and separating microplastics by serial faradaic ion concentration polarization†
In this article, we report continuous sorting of two microplastics in a trifurcated microfluidic channel using a new method called serial faradaic ion concentration polarization (fICP). fICP is an electrochemical method for forming ion depletion zones and their corresponding locally elevated electric fields in microchannels. By tuning the interplay between the forces of electromigration and convection during a fICP experiment, it is possible to control the flow of charged objects in microfluidic channels. The key findings of this report are threefold. First, fICP at two bipolar electrodes, configured in series and operated with a single power supply, yields two electric field gradients within a single microfluidic channel (i.e., serial fICP). Second, complex flow variations that adversely impact separations during fICP can be mitigated by minimizing convection by electroosmotic flow in favor of pressure-driven flow. Finally, serial fICP within a trifurcated microchannel is able to continuously and quantitatively focus, sort, and separate microplastics. These findings demonstrate that multiple local electric field gradients can be generated within a single microfluidic channel by simply placing metal wires at strategic locations. This approach opens a vast range of new possibilities for implementing membrane-free separations.