Microfluidic methods to study emulsion formation

Kelly Muijlwijk

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Emulsions are dispersions of one liquid in another that are commonly used in various products, and methods such as high-pressure homogenisers and colloid mills are used to form emulsions. The size and size distribution of emulsion droplets are important for the final product properties and thus need to be controlled. Rapid coalescence of droplets during emulsification increases droplet size and widens the size distribution, and therefore needs to be prevented.

To increase stability of emulsions, emulsifiers are added to adsorb at the oil-water interface before droplets collide. The time allowed for emulsifier adsorption is typically in the range of sub-milliseconds to seconds and to optimise emulsification processes, emulsifier adsorption and coalescence stability need to be measured in this time-scale, for which the microfluidic methods described in this thesis were developed.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of existing literature on cross-flow microfluidic emulsification. The effects of various parameters such as microfluidic design, shear forces, and interfacial tension forces on droplet formation and the resulting droplet size are discussed, as well as the use of microfluidics to produce food-grade emulsions. Based on this evaluation, the methods to elucidate interfacial tension and coalescence stability are chosen, and these are presented in the next chapters.

To measure emulsifier adsorption in the sub-millisecond time-scale, a tensiometric method was developed using a cross-flow microfluidic Y-junction, which is described  in Chapter 3. This method is based on the relation between droplet size and interfacial tension at the moment of droplet formation, which is referred to as the acting interfacial tension. The acting interfacial tension of a system with hexadecane as the dispersed phase and sodium dodecylsulfate (SDS, a model surfactant) solutions as the continuous phase was successfully measured for droplet formation times ranging from 0.4 to 9.4 milliseconds and with high expansion rates (100-2000 s-1). Comparison of these results with data from a drop tensiometer (a conventional, static, and supra-second time-scale method) indicates that mass transport in the microfluidic Y-junction is fast and probably not limited by diffusion.

Emulsifier mass transport conditions were further investigated in Chapter 4. The continuous phase viscosity and velocity were systematically varied and the effect on the acting interfacial tension in presence of water-soluble SDS was measured. We found that the acting interfacial tension was independent of the continuous phase viscosity, but was inversely dependent on continuous phase velocity. Both aspects led us to conclude that convective emulsifier transport in the continuous phase determines the acting interfacial tension in the Y-junction. When using oil-soluble surfactant Span 20 (dissolved in hexadecane), the acting interfacial tension also decreased with increasing continuous phase velocity, and we therefore concluded that convection also dominated mass transport of emulsifiers dissolved in the to-be-dispersed phase.

The Y-junction method was used in Chapter 5 to elucidate the effect of the dispersed phase viscosity on adsorption of the food-grade emulsifiers Tween 20 (dissolved in the continuous water phase) and Span 20 (dissolved in the dispersed oil phase). A reduction in dispersed phase viscosity sped up adsorption of Tween 20, probably because the shorter hydrocarbon made intercalation of the hydrophobic surfactant tail at the interface easier. Dispersed phase viscosity had an even greater effect on adsorption of Span 20 because convective transport towards the interface was increased.

Next to interfacial tension, also coalescence can be measured with microfluidics and a microfluidic collision channel was used in Chapter 6 to measure emulsion coalescence stability shortly after droplet formation under flow. Coalescence of emulsions stabilised with proteins was measured at various concentrations, pH values, and adsorption times. We found that protein concentrations just below the concentration needed for monolayer surface coverage may be used effectively. β-lactoglobulin-stabilised emulsions were most stable. Emulsions stabilised with whey protein isolate (with as main component β-lactoglobulin), were less stable and when these proteins were oxidised, this led to reduced stability, therewith indicating that also the oxidative state of proteins needs to be considered in emulsion formulation.

The relevance of our work for microfluidic research and industrial emulsification processes is discussed in Chapter 7. Microfluidic devices can be used to study emulsion formation and stability under conditions relevant to industrial emulsification processes; at short time-scales and with convective mass transport. In this thesis we used various food-grade ingredients, and with that application in that field has come closer. We expect that the findings on emulsions can also be applied on foams. With the discussed microfluidic devices different aspects that are important for emulsion formation can be decoupled: for example interfacial tension during droplet formation and emulsion coalescence stability. Furthermore, microfluidic methods are available to for example gain insight in emulsion interface mobility and emulsion storage stability, and we envision that all these microfluidic methods will lead to faster ingredient screening, lower ingredient usage, and more energy efficient emulsion production.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Schroen, Karin, Promotor
  • Berton-Carabin, Claire, Co-promotor
Award date1 Jun 2017
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789463430715
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • emulsions
  • microfluidics
  • food emulsions
  • droplets
  • adsorption
  • colloidal properties

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