Breakdown of electroneutrality in nanopores

J. Colloid and Interface Science 2020, 579, 162-176

Amir Levy, J Pedro de Souza, Martin Z. Bazant


The abstract reads as follows: Ion transport in extremely narrow nanochannels has gained increasing interest in recent years due to unique physical properties at the nanoscale and the technological advances that allow us to study them. It is tempting to approach this confined regime with the theoretical tools and knowledge developed for membranes and microfluidic devices, and naively apply continuum models, such as the Poisson-Nernst-Planck and Navier-Stokes equations. However, it turns out that some of the most basic principles we take for granted in larger systems, such as the complete screening of surface charge by counter-ions, can break down under extreme confinement. We show that in a truly one-dimensional system of ions interacting with three-dimensional electrostatic interactions, the screening length is exponentially large, and can easily exceed the macroscopic length of a nanotube. Without screening, electroneutrality breaks down within the nanotube, with fundamental consequences for ion transport and electrokinetic phenomena. In this work, we build a general theoretical framework for electroneutrality breakdown in nanopores, focusing on the most interesting case of a one-dimensional nanotube, and show how it provides an elegant interpretation for the peculiar scaling observed in experimental measurements of ionic conductance in carbon nanotubes.

This research was supported as part of the Center for Enhanced Nanofluidic Transport (CENT), an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences under Award # de-sc0019112 (continuum modeling), and by an Amar G. Bose Research Grant (1d lattice-gas model). JPD  acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. 1122374.