Water evaporation from complex aqueous solutions leads to the build-up of structure and composition gradients at their interface with air. We recently introduced an experimental setup for quantitatively studying such gradients and discussed how structure formation can lead to a self-regulation mechanism for controlling water evaporation through self-assembly. Here, we provide a detailed theoretical analysis using an advection/diffusion transport equation that takes into account thermodynamically non-ideal conditions and we directly relate the theoretical description to quantitative experimental data. We derive that the concentration profile develops according to a general square root of time scaling law, which fully agrees with experimental observations. The evaporation rate notably decreases with time as t-1/2, which shows that diffusion in the liquid phase is the rate limiting step for this system, in contrast to pure water evaporation. For the particular binary system that was investigated experimentally, which is composed of water and a sugar-based surfactant (α-dodecylmaltoside), the interfacial layer consists in a sequence of liquid crystalline phases of different mesostructures. We extract values for mutual diffusion coefficients of lamellar, hexagonal and micellar cubic phases, which are consistent with previously reported values and simple models. We thus provide a method to estimate the transport properties of oriented mesophases. The macroscopic humidity-independence of the evaporation rate up to 85% relative humidities is shown to result from both an extremely low mutual diffusion coefficient and the large range of water activities corresponding to relative humidities below 85%, at which the lamellar phase exists. Such a humidity self-regulation mechanism is expected for a large variety of complex system.
- Fysikalisk kemi