What Determines CO₂ Solubility in Ionic Liquids? A Molecular Simulation Study

J Phys Chem B. 2015 Aug 6;119(31):10066-78. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b03674. Epub 2015 Jul 22.


Molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of 10 different pure and CO2-saturated ionic liquids are performed to identify the factors that determine CO2 solubility. Imidazolium-based cations with varying alkyl chain length and functionalization are paired with anions of different hydrophobicity and size. Simulations are carried out with an empirical force field based on liquid-phase charges. The partial molar volume of CO2 in ionic liquids (ILs) varies from 30 to 40 cm(3)/mol. This indicates that slight ion displacements are necessary to enable CO2 insertions. However, the absorption of CO2 does not affect the overall organization of ions in the ILs as demonstrated by almost equal cation-anion radial distribution functions of pure ILs and ILs saturated with CO2. The solubility of CO2 in ILs is not influenced by direct CO2-ion interactions. Instead, a strong correlation between the ratio of unoccupied space in pure ILs and their ability to absorb CO2 is found. This preformed unoccupied space is regularly dispersed throughout the ILs and needs to be expanded by slight ion displacements to accommodate CO2. The amount of preformed unoccupied space is a good indicator for ion cohesion in ILs. Weak electrostatic cation-anion interaction densities in ILs, i.e., weak ion cohesion, leads to larger average distances between ions and hence to more unoccupied space. Weak ion cohesion facilitates ion displacement to enable an expansion of empty space to accommodate CO2. Moreover, it is demonstrated that the strength of ion cohesion is primarily determined by the ion density, which in turn is given by the ion sizes. Ion cohesion is influenced additionally to a smaller extent by local electrostatic interactions among ion moieties between which CO2 is inserted and which do not depend on the ion density. Overall, the factors that determine the solubility of CO2 in ILs are identified consistently across a large variety of constituting ions through MD simulations.