Liquid ToF-SIMS revealing the oil, water, and surfactant interface evolution†
Bilge water from ships is regarded as a major pollutant in the marine environment. Bilge water exists in a stable oil-in-water (O/W) emulsion form. However, little is known about the O/W liquid–liquid (l–l) interface. Traditional bulk characterization approaches are not capable of capturing the chemical changes at the O/W l–l interface. Although surfactants are deemed essential in droplet formation, their roles in bilge water stabilization have not been fully revealed. We have utilized novel in situ chemical imaging tools including in situ scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and in situ time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) to study the evolving O/W interface using a NAVY bilge model for the first time. The droplet size distribution (DSD) does not change significantly without the addition of X-100 surfactants under static or rocking conditions. Both the oil components and the water clusters are shown to evolve over time at the O/W droplet interface by in situ liquid SIMS imaging. Of particular interest to droplet stabilization, the contribution of surfactants to the aged bilge droplets becomes more significant as the droplet size increases. The higher mass surfactant component does not appear on the droplet surface immediately while many lower mass surfactants are solvated inside the droplet. We have provided the first three-dimensional images of the evolving O/W interface and demonstrated that in situ surface chemical mapping is powerful enough to reveal the complex and dynamic l–l interface in the liquid state. Our observational insights suggest that surfactants are important in mediating droplet growth and facilitating effective separation of bilge water emulsion.