Wettability alteration has significant applications in microfluidics, energy production and process engineering. Surfactants have been widely used for wettability alteration on surfaces. More recently, electrowetting (EW) has emerged as a powerful microfluidic technique to dynamically alter wettability. EW relies on the application of an electrical potential difference across a dielectric layer on which the fluid rests.

This work analyzes the extent of wettability enhancement of water droplets on a hydrophobic surface (in air) via the use of surfactants and EW. Nine surfactants were chosen from the categories of anionic, cationic and zwitterionic surfactants. The critical micelle concentration (CMC) of these surfactants, and the wettability of surfactant-infused water droplets was measured at post and pre-CMC concentrations. Next, experiments were conducted to quantify the wettability enhancement of water droplets (with surfactants) via EW.

Many interesting insights on the interplay between surfactants and electric fields are uncovered in this work. As expected, adding surfactants enhances wettability up to the CMC. EW can further enhance wettability of surfactant solutions and further reduce the contact angle by as much as 30°. Interestingly, it is seen that the influence of EW in enabling CA reduction is reduced by the addition of surfactants at pre-CMC levels. Conversely, surfactants strengthen the influence of EW at higher concentrations. It is noted that the extent of wettability alteration via EW is limited by the phenomena of contact angle saturation, wherein the contact angle saturates beyond a certain voltage. Interestingly, it is seen that at post CMC concentrations, the saturation contact angles are independent of surfactant concentrations.

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