Aqueous systems of a surface active ionic liquid having an aromatic anion: phase behavior, exfoliation of graphene flakes and its hydrogelation†
Surface active ionic liquid (SAIL) induced hydrogelation, in the absence of additives, is important considering the properties of soft-hydrogels that can be utilized in different applications. The present study is concerned with the phase behavior and hydrogelation of a SAIL, 1-hexadecyl-3-methylimidazolium p-toluenesulfonate, [C16mim][PTS]. The obtained information about the phase behavior along with the surfactant like behavior of the SAIL was exploited for effective exfoliation of graphene-flakes from graphite in aqueous medium that remain stable for at least one month. Thus the obtained dispersion of graphene-flakes was subsequently hydrogelated exploiting the observations made from the phase behavior of the SAIL, via entanglement of long worm-like micelles of the SAIL formed at higher concentration. The obtained graphene-flake based hydrogels were found to be equally stable as compared to the blank hydrogel as well as against centrifugation. The low melting point of hydrogel facilitates the extraction of graphene-flakes from the hydrogel matrix by heating and diluting the gel and there is no sign of agglomeration in the extracted graphene-flakes even if the extraction is carried out after a period of three months. The present work is an exemplary study on exfoliation, hydrogelation and extraction of graphene-flakes from a hydrogel, when required, using a SAIL and is expected to provide a new platform for utilization of SAILs for efficient graphene exfoliation and subsequent preparation of functional materials.