Development of structured polymer electrolyte membranes for fuel cell applications

Date of Completion

January 2006


Chemistry, Polymer|Energy|Engineering, Materials Science




The objective of this research was to explore structure-property relationships to develop the understanding needed for introduction of superior PEM materials. Polymer electrolyte membranes based on sulfonated poly(ether ketone ketone) (SPEKK) were fabricated using N-methyl pyrrolidone as casting solvent. The membranes were characterized in terms of properties that were relevant to fuel cell applications, such as proton conductivity, methanol permeability, and swelling properties, among others. It was found in this study that the proton conductivity of neat SPEKK membranes could reach the conductivity of commercial membranes such as Nafion®. However, when the conductivity of SPEKK was comparable to Nafion®, the swelling of SPEKK in water was quite excessive. The swelling problem was remedied by modifying the microstructure of SPEKK using different techniques. One of them involved blending of lightly sulfonated PEKK with highly acidic particles (sulfonated crosslinked polystyrene-SXLPS). Low sulfonation level of SPEKK was used to reduce the swelling of the membrane in water and the role of the highly acidic particles was to enhance the proton conductivity of the membrane. Because of the residual crystallinity in SPEKK with low sulfonation levels (IEC < 1 meq/g), the composite membranes exhibited excellent dimensional stability in water at elevated temperatures (30-90 °C). Also, the resistance to swelling of these composite membranes in methanol-water mixtures was far better than Nafion®, and so was the methanol permeability. Another technique explored was blending with non-conductive polymers (poly(ether imide) and poly(ether sulfone)) to act as mechanical reinforcement. It was found that miscibility behavior of the blends had a significant impact on the transport and swelling properties of these blends, which could be explained by the blend microstructure. The miscibility behavior was found to be strongly dependent on the sulfonation level of SPEKK. The conductivities of the blends were enhanced by as much as two orders of magnitude when the morphology was modified by electric field. The last approach was ionic crosslinking of the sulfonate groups in SPEKK using divalent cations, specifically barium ions. The crosslinking treatment has greatly improved the thermal stability of the membranes in both dry and wet conditions. ^