From Molten Salts to Ionic Liquids: A "Nano" Journey

Laboratory of Molecular Catalysis, Institute of Chemistry, UFRGS, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.
Accounts of Chemical Research (Impact Factor: 24.35). 07/2011; 44(11):1223-31. DOI: 10.1021/ar2000937
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Ionic liquids (ILs), a special group of classical molten salts, are widely used in various fields of science. Historically, researchers have tested ILs out of curiosity or to improve a specific property in a particular system in many areas of chemistry or materials science. However, today, ILs are far from being simple chemical curiosities and sit at the center of various green industrial innovation processes, where they play important roles in materials extraction, reactive catalytic supports, spatial devices, and biotransformations. In this Account, we describe a journey into a nanostructured universe to better understand the unique properties of ionic liquids and their modern applications. Because molten salts have been known for centuries and have found limited uses, we try to explain why modern nonaqueous ILs deserve increased interest and curiosity. We discuss the characteristics that distinguish modern nonaqueous ILs and compare them with classical molten salts. One of the main differences between room temperature ILs, especially those based on imidazolium cations, and simple molten salts, is the molecular asymmetry built into at least one of the ions. This asymmetry in modern, nonaqueous ILs opposes the strong charge ordering due to ionic interactions that normally would cause the system to crystallize. In addition, the presence of a cooperative network of hydrogen bonds between the cations and anions induces structural directionality (the entropic effect). Therefore, modern ILs form preorganized structures, mainly through hydrogen bonding, that induce structural directionality. In contrast, classical salts form aggregates only through ionic bonds. In other words, weak interactions order the structures in modern ILs while charges order the structure within classical salts. ILs cannot be regarded as merely homogeneous solvents. In fact, ILs form extended hydrogen-bond networks with polar and nonpolar nano domains and therefore are by definition "supramolecular" fluids. Thus, ILs are better described as hydrogen-bonded polymeric supramolecules of the type [(DAI)(m)(X)(m_n))](n+)[(DAI)(m_n)(X)(x))](n-). This structural pattern is a general trend for both the solid and the liquid phase and is apparently maintained to a large extent even in the gas phase. This structural organization of ILs can be used as entropic drivers (the "IL effect") for the preparation of well-defined nanoscale structures with extended order, either in the bulk phase or at the gas/vacuum interface.

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