First-principles prediction of critical micellar concentrations for ionic and nonionic surfactants

M. Turchi, A. P. Karcz, M.P. Andersson

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The concentration of surfactant in solution for which micelles start to form, also known as critical micelle concentration is a key property in formulation design. The critical micelle concentration can be determined experimentally with a tensiometer by measuring the surface tension of a concentration series. In analogy with experiments, in-silico predictions can be achieved through interfacial tension calculations.

We present a newly developed method, which employs first principles-based interfacial tension calculations rooted in COSMO-RS theory, for the prediction of the critical micelle concentration of a set of nonionic, cationic, anionic, and zwitterionic surfactants in water. Our approach consists of a combination of two prediction strategies for modelling two different phenomena involving the removal of the surfactant hydrophobic tail from contact with water. The two strategies are based on regular micelle formation and thermodynamic phase separation of the surfactant from water and both are required to take into account a wide range of polarity in the hydrophilic headgroup.

Our method yields accurate predictions for the critical micellar concentration, within one log unit from experiments, for a wide range of surfactant types and introduces possibilities for first-principles based prediction of formulation properties for more complex compositions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Pages (from-to)618-627
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Critical micelle concentration
  • Interfacial tension
  • Nonionic
  • Ionic
  • Zwitterionic
  • Surfactant
  • Density functional theory
  • Phase separation


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