Diffusionlike Drying of a Nanoporous Solid as Revealed by Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Drying plays a central role in various fabrication processes and applications of functional nanoporous materials, most prominently in relation to energy storage and conversion. During such processes, liquid coexists with air inside the sample, leading to transport as a result of concentration gradients of vapor and/or liquid. Experimentally, it is extremely challenging to unravel this transport phenomenology inside the hidden geometry of porous media. Here, we observe the drying of a model nanoporous material (monolithic mesoporous silica glass, Vycor) with magnetic resonance imaging. We show that, for various boundary conditions (air-flux intensities), no dry region develops, but the sample desaturates in depth. This desaturation is almost homogeneous throughout the sample for weak air flux, while saturation gradients can be observed for sufficiently strong air flux. We demonstrate that the transport of water is mainly ensured by liquid flow towards the free surface, resulting from a gradient of vapor pressure, associated with local saturation (via the desorption curve), leading to a gradient of liquid pressure (via the Kelvin law). Assuming otherwise standard hydrodynamic characteristics of the nanoconfined liquid, this results in a diffusionlike model, which appears to represent experimental data very well in terms of the spatial distribution of water over time inside the sample for various boundary conditions (air-flux intensities). Finally, we propose a predictive model of the detailed drying characteristics of a nanomaterial from knowledge of its pore size, permeability, and desorption curve. This provides an insight into the rational design of drying-based processes employing functional nanoporous materials and allows for a mechanistic understanding of drying phenomenologies in natural nanoporous media.