Coupled water, charge and salt transport in heterogeneous nano-fluidic systems†
We theoretically study the electrokinetic transport properties of nano-fluidic devices under the influence of a pressure, voltage or salinity gradient. On a microscopic level the behaviour of the device is quantified by the Onsager matrix L, a generalised conductivity matrix relating the local driving forces and the induced volume, charge and salt flux. Extending L from a local to a global linear-response relation is trivial for homogeneous electrokinetic systems, but in this manuscript we derive a generalised conductivity matrix G from L that applies also to heterogeneous electrokinetic systems. This extension is especially important in the case of an imposed salinity gradient, which gives necessarily rise to heterogeneous devices. Within this formalism we can also incorporate a heterogeneous surface charge due to, for instance, a charge regulating boundary condition, which we show to have a significant impact on the resulting fluxes. The predictions of the Poisson–Nernst–Planck–Stokes theory show good agreement with exact solutions of the governing equations determined using the finite element method under a wide variety of parameters. Having established the validity of the theory, it provides an accessible method to analyse electrokinetic systems in general without the need of extensive numerical methods. As an example, we analyse a reverse electrodialysis “blue energy” system, and analyse how the many parameters that characterise such a system affect the generated electrical power and efficiency.