Structure and self-diffusivity of mixed-cation electrolytes between neutral and charged graphene sheets

Graphene-based applications, such as supercapacitors or capacitive deionization, take place in an aqueous environment, and they benefit from molecular-level insights into the behavior of aqueous electrolyte solutions in single-digit graphene nanopores with a size comparable to a few molecular diameters. Under single-digit graphene nanoconfinement (smallest dimension < 2 nm), water and ions behave drastically different than in the bulk. Most aqueous electrolytes in graphene-based applications as well as in nature contain a mix of electrolytes. We study several prototypical aqueous mixed alkali-chloride electrolytes containing an equimolar fraction of Li/Na, Li/K, or Na/K cations confined between neutral and positively or negatively charged parallel graphene sheets. The strong hydration shell of small Li+ vs a larger Na+ or large K+ with weaker or weak hydration shells affects the interplay between the ions’ propensity to hydrate or dehydrate under the graphene nanoconfinement and the strength of the ion–graphene interactions mediated by confinement-induced layered water. We perform molecular dynamics simulations of the confined mixed-cation electrolytes using the effectively polarizable force field for electrolyte–graphene systems and focus on a relation between the electrochemical adsorption and structural properties of the water molecules and ions and their diffusion behavior. The simulations show that the one-layer nanoslits have the biggest impact on the ions’ adsorption and the water and ions’ diffusion. The positively charged one-layer nanoslits only allow for Cl adsorption and strengthen the intermolecular bonding, which along with the ultrathin confinement substantially reduces the water and Cl diffusion. In contrast, the negatively charged one-layer nanoslits only allow for the adsorption of weakly hydrated Na+ or K+ and substantially break up the non-covalent bond network, which leads to the enhancement of the water and Na+ or K+ diffusion up to or even above the bulk diffusion. In wider nanoslits, cations adsorb closer to the graphene surfaces than Cl’s with preferential adsorption of a weakly hydrated cation over a strongly hydrated cation. The positive graphene charge has an intuitive effect on the adsorption of weakly hydrated Na+’s or K+’s and Cl’s and a counterintuitive effect on the adsorption of strongly hydrated Li+’s. On the other hand, the negative surface charge has an intuitive effect on the adsorption of both types of cations and only mild intuitive or counterintuitive effects on the Cl adsorption. The diffusion of water molecules and ions confined in the wider nanoslits is reduced with respect to the bulk diffusion, more for the positive graphene charge, which strengthened the intermolecular bonding, and less for the negative surface charge, which weakened the non-covalent bond network.

  • E. Rezlerová, F. Moučka, M. Předota, M. Lísal: Structure and self-diffusivity of mixed-cation electrolytes between neutral and charged graphene sheets, J. Chem. Phys. 160, 094701, 2024. DOI
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