Complexation Enhancement Drives Water-to-Oil Ion Transport: A Simulation Study

Baofu Qiao*, Geoffroy Ferru, Ross J. Ellis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


We address the structures and energetics of ion solvation in aqueous and organic solutions to understand liquid–liquid ion transport. Atomistic molecular dynamics (MD) simulations with polarizable force field are performed to study the coordination transformations driving lanthanide (LnIII) and nitrate ion transport between aqueous and an alkylamide–oil solution. An enhancement of the coordination behavior in the organic phase is achieved in contrast with the aqueous solution. In particular, the coordination number of Ce3+increases from 8.9 in the aqueous to 9.9 in the organic solutions (from 8 in the aqueous to 8.8 in the organic systems for Yb3+). Moreover, the local coordination environment changes dramatically. Potential of mean force calculations show that the LnIII–ligand coordination interaction strengths follow the order of LnIII–nitrate>LnIII–water>LnIII–DMDBTDMA. They increase 2-fold in the lipophilic environment in comparison to the aqueous phase, and we attribute this to the shedding of the outer solvation shell. Our findings highlight the importance of outer sphere interactions on the competitive solvation energetics that cause ions to migrate between immiscible phases; an essential ingredient for advancing important applications such as rare earth metal separations. Some open questions in simulating the coordination behavior of heavy metals are also addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-436
Number of pages10
JournalChemistry - A European Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 5 2017


  • atomistic simulation
  • coordination
  • ion transport
  • lanthanides
  • ligand effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Organic Chemistry


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