Switchable solvents and surfactants

I went to a fascinating talk yesterday on green chemistry by Professor Philip Jessop from Queen’s University, Canada.  Prof. Jessop has created reversible switchable solvent and switchable surfactant systems which can be turned from ‘good’ to ‘poor’ behaviour by simply bubbling carbon dioxide through the system.   With switchable solvents, the idea is to remove products from solvents without  distillation which saves energy and allows solvents to be recycled thereby eliminating waste.  How brilliant is that!

Destabilisation of emulsions  is a tricky process since generally surfactants are difficult to remove from interfaces.  Jessop’s switchable surfactants can be ‘switched’ to behave as poor surfactants so that they leave the interface and allow oil and water phases to separate.   This control over good and poor surfactant behaviour is deeply desirable for oil recovery where water is pumped down to force the oil up to the surface.

Prof. Jessop has also set up The Green Centre Canada to help early stage green technologies be developed for specific industrial needs.  The switchable solvent technology is being developed and distributed through the company Switchable Solutions.

I am excited about how these materials can be used in complex fluids and how they can make processes more efficient and environmentally safer.

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