14. Electrokinetics

The electrokinetics setup in ESPResSo allows for the description of electro-hydrodynamic systems on the level of ion density distributions coupled to a lattice-Boltzmann (LB) fluid. The ion density distributions may also interact with explicit charged particles, which are interpolated on the LB grid. In the following paragraph we briefly explain the electrokinetic model implemented in ESPResSo, before we come to the description of the interface.

14.1. Electrokinetic equations

In the electrokinetics code we solve the following system of coupled continuity, diffusion-advection, Poisson, and Navier-Stokes equations:

\[\begin{split}\begin{aligned} \label{eq:ek-model-continuity} \frac{\partial n_k}{\partial t} & = & -\, \nabla \cdot \vec{j}_k \vphantom{\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial}\right)} ; \\ \label{eq:ek-model-fluxes} \vec{j}_{k} & = & -D_k \nabla n_k - \nu_k \, q_k n_k\, \nabla \Phi + n_k \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}} \vphantom{\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial}\right)} + \sqrt{n_k}\vec{\mathcal{W}}_k; \\ \label{eq:ek-model-poisson} \Delta \Phi & = & -4 \pi \, {l_\mathrm{B}}\, {k_\mathrm{B}T}\sum_k q_k n_k \vphantom{\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial}\right)}; \\ \nonumber \left(\frac{\partial \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}}}{\partial t} + \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}} \cdot \nabla \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}} \right) \rho_\mathrm{fl} & = & -{k_\mathrm{B}T}\, \nabla \rho_\mathrm{fl} - q_k n_k \nabla \Phi \\ \label{eq:ek-model-velocity} & & +\, \eta \Delta \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}} + (\eta / 3 + \eta_{\text{b}}) \nabla (\nabla \cdot \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}}) \vphantom{\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial}\right)} ; \\ \label{eq:ek-model-continuity-fl} \frac{\partial \rho_\mathrm{fl}}{\partial t} & = & -\,\nabla\cdot\left( \rho_\mathrm{fl} \vec{v}_{\mathrm{fl}} \right) \vphantom{\left(\frac{\partial}{\partial}\right)} , \end{aligned}\end{split}\]

which define relations between the following observables


the number density of the particles of species \(k\),


the number density flux of the particles of species \(k\),


the electrostatic potential,


the mass density of the fluid,


the advective velocity of the fluid,

and input parameters


the diffusion constant of species \(k\),


the mobility of species \(k\),


the white-noise term for the fluctuations of species \(k\),


the charge of a single particle of species \(k\),


the Bjerrum length,

the thermal energy given by the product of Boltzmann’s constant \(k_\text{B}\)
and the temperature \(T\),

the dynamic viscosity of the fluid,


the bulk viscosity of the fluid.

The temperature \(T\), and diffusion constants \(D_k\) and mobilities \(\nu_k\) of individual species are linked through the Einstein-Smoluchowski relation \(D_k / \nu_k = {k_\mathrm{B}T}\). This system of equations combining diffusion-advection, electrostatics, and hydrodynamics is conventionally referred to as the Electrokinetic Equations.

The electrokinetic equations have the following properties:

  • On the coarse time and length scale of the model, the dynamics of the particle species can be described in terms of smooth density distributions and potentials as opposed to the microscale where highly localized densities cause singularities in the potential.

    In most situations, this restricts the application of the model to species of monovalent ions, since ions of higher valency typically show strong condensation and correlation effects – the localization of individual ions in local potential minima and the subsequent correlated motion with the charges causing this minima.

  • Only the entropy of an ideal gas and electrostatic interactions are accounted for. In particular, there is no excluded volume.

    This restricts the application of the model to monovalent ions and moderate charge densities. At higher valencies or densities, overcharging and layering effects can occur, which lead to non-monotonic charge densities and potentials, that can not be covered by a mean-field model such as Poisson–Boltzmann or this one.

    Even in salt free systems containing only counter ions, the counter-ion densities close to highly charged objects can be overestimated when neglecting excluded volume effects. Decades of the application of Poisson–Boltzmann theory to systems of electrolytic solutions, however, show that those conditions are fulfilled for monovalent salt ions (such as sodium chloride or potassium chloride) at experimentally realizable concentrations.

  • Electrodynamic and magnetic effects play no role. Electrolytic solutions fulfill those conditions as long as they don’t contain magnetic particles.

  • The diffusion coefficient is a scalar, which means there can not be any cross-diffusion. Additionally, the diffusive behavior has been deduced using a formalism relying on the notion of a local equilibrium. The resulting diffusion equation, however, is known to be valid also far from equilibrium.

  • The temperature is constant throughout the system.

  • The density fluxes instantaneously relax to their local equilibrium values. Obviously one can not extract information about processes on length and time scales not covered by the model, such as dielectric spectra at frequencies, high enough that they correspond to times faster than the diffusive time scales of the charged species.

14.2. Setup

14.2.1. Initialization

Electrokinetics is used to initialize the LB fluid of the EK method:

import espressomd
import espressomd.electrokinetics
system = espressomd.System(box_l=[10.0, 10.0, 10.0])
system.time_step = 0.0
system.cell_system.skin = 0.4
ek = espressomd.electrokinetics.Electrokinetics(agrid=1.0, lb_density=1.0,
    viscosity=1.0, ext_force_density = [1,0,0], friction=1.0, T=1.0, prefactor=1.0,
    stencil='linkcentered', advection=True, fluid_coupling='friction')


Features ELECTROKINETICS and CUDA required

It is very similar to the lattice-Boltzmann command in set-up. We therefore refer the reader to chapter Lattice-Boltzmann for details on the implementation of LB in ESPResSo and describe only the major differences here.

The first major difference with the LB implementation is that the electrokinetics set-up is a GPU-only implementation. A CPU version will become available in the 4.3 line of ESPResSo. To use the electrokinetics features it is therefore imperative that your computer contains a CUDA-capable GPU.

To set up a proper LB fluid using this command, one has to specify at least the following options: agrid, lb_density, viscosity, friction, T, and prefactor. The other options can be used to modify the behavior of the LB fluid. Note that the command does not allow the user to set the time step parameter as is the case for the lattice-Boltzmann command, this parameter is instead taken directly from the value set for time_step. The LB mass density is set independently from the electrokinetic number densities, since the LB fluid serves only as a medium through which hydrodynamic interactions are propagated, as will be explained further in the next paragraph. If no lb_density is specified, then our algorithm assumes lb_density= 1.0. The two ‘new’ parameters are the temperature T at which the diffusive species are simulated and the prefactor associated with the electrostatic properties of the medium. See the above description of the electrokinetic equations for an explanation of the introduction of a temperature, which does not come in directly via a thermostat that produces thermal fluctuations.

advection can be set to True or False. It controls whether there should be an advective contribution to the diffusive species’ fluxes. Default is True.

fluid_coupling can be set to "friction" or "estatics". This option determines the force term acting on the fluid. The former specifies the force term to be the sum of the species fluxes divided by their respective mobilities while the latter simply uses the electrostatic force density acting on all species. Note that this switching is only possible for the "linkcentered" stencil. For all other stencils, this choice is hardcoded. The default is "friction".

es_coupling enables the action of the electrostatic potential due to the electrokinetics species and charged boundaries on the MD particles. The forces on the particles are calculated by interpolation from the electric field which is in turn calculated from the potential via finite differences. This only includes interactions between the species and boundaries and MD particles, not between MD particles and MD particles. To get complete electrostatic interactions a particles Coulomb method like Ewald or P3M has to be activated too.

The fluctuation of the EK species can be turned on by the flag fluctuations. This adds a white-noise term to the fluxes. The amplitude of this noise term can be controlled by fluctuation_amplitude. To circumvent that these fluctuations lead to negative densities, they are modified by a smoothed Heaviside function, which decreases the magnitude of the fluctuation for densities close to 0. By default the fluctuations are turned off.

Another difference with LB is that EK parameters are immutables, and the EK object cannot be checkpointed.

14.2.2. Diffusive species

species = espressomd.electrokinetics.Species(density=density, D=D, valency=valency,

Species is used to initialize a diffusive species. Here the options specify: the number density density, the diffusion coefficient D, the valency of the particles of that species valency, and an optional external (electric) force which is applied to the diffusive species. As mentioned before, the LB density is completely decoupled from the electrokinetic densities. This has the advantage that greater freedom can be achieved in matching the internal parameters to an experimental system. Moreover, it is possible to choose parameters for which the LB is more stable. The species can be added to a LB fluid:


One can also add the species during the initialization step of the Electrokinetics class by defining the list variable species:

ek = espressomd.electrokinetics.Electrokinetics(species=[species], ...)

The variables density, D, and valency must be set to properly initialize the diffusive species; the ext_force_density is optional.

14.2.3. EK boundaries

EKBoundary is used to set up internal (or external) boundaries for the electrokinetics algorithm in much the same way as the LBBoundary class is used for the LB fluid:

ek_boundary = espressomd.ekboundaries.EKBoundary(charge_density=1.0, shape=my_shape)


Feature EK_BOUNDARIES required

The major difference with the LB class is the option charge_density, with which a boundary can be endowed with a volume charge density. To create a surface charge density, a combination of two oppositely charged boundaries, one inside the other, can be used. However, care should be taken to maintain the surface charge density when the value of agrid is changed. Examples for possible shapes are wall, sphere, ellipsoid, cylinder, rhomboid and hollow conical frustum. We refer to the documentation of the espressomd.shapes module for more possible shapes and information on the options associated to these shapes. In order to properly set up the boundaries, the charge_density and shape must be specified.

14.2.4. Output Fields


A property of the fluid field can be exported into a file in one go. Currently supported fields are: density, velocity, potential and boundary, which give the LB fluid density, the LB fluid velocity, the electrostatic potential, and the location and type of the boundaries, respectively. The boundaries can only be printed when the EK_BOUNDARIES is compiled in. The output is a vtk-file, which is readable by visualization software such as ParaView 5 and Mayavi2 6.


These commands are similar to the above. They enable the export of diffusive species properties, namely: density and flux, which specify the number density and flux of species species, respectively. Local quantities

Local quantities like velocity or fluid density for single nodes can be accessed in the same way as for an LB fluid, see Lattice-Boltzmann. The only EK-specific quantity is the potential.

ek[0, 0, 0].potential
ek[0, 0, 0].velocity
ek[0, 0, 0].boundary

The local density and flux of a species can be obtained in the same fashion:

species[0, 0, 0].density
species[0, 0, 0].flux