DMREF: Collaborative Research: Development of Design Rules for High Hydroxide Transport in Polymer Architectures

  • Hickner, Michael Anthony (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


In this project funded by the Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future (DMREF) Program of the Chemistry Division, Professor Mark Tuckerman at New York University, Professor Chulsung Bae at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Professor Michael Hickner of the Pennsylvania State University, and Professor Stephen Paddison of the University of Tennessee are designing, synthesizing, and testing new materials for use in alkaline fuel cells and discovering a set of rules for best practices in the development of future materials for fuel cell applications. As the United States seeks to enhance its energy security through identification and development of clean energy sources a range of technologies need to be leveraged in order to secure a sustainable energy supply. Electrochemical devices are an important part of this mix of technologies, and among these, fuel cells constitute some of the cleanest and most sustainable technologies. Several key hurdles to harnessing the potential of fuel cells (as well as various other electrochemical technologies) remain to be surmounted. The team of investigators are focusing on anion exchange membrane fuel cells that have advantages over other types of fuel cells in not requiring precious metals and being operable with a variety of fuels at low temperature. The project is employing a cohesive strategy involving mathematical and computer modeling of specific materials components that may, in turn, guide the synthesis of new materials, the characterization and testing of these materials in actual fuel cells, and the determination of optimal design principles to govern future materials engineering in this area. The project is also providing education and training for graduate and post-graduate researchers in both theoretical and experimental aspects of materials science and engineering, thus ensuring the competence and creativity of the next generation of STEM researchers.

The understanding and design of cost-effective and reliable polymer architectures for use as ion-conducting membranes is an important challenge facing emerging electrochemical device technologies. Currently available proton exchange membranes are problematic due to high cost, environmental concerns of fluoroplymers, and often poor performance under nonideal conditions. Additional challenges in proton exchange membranes fuel cell applications include difficult water management due to electro-osmosis, high fuel crossover, and the requirement of expensive platinum catalysts. Fuel cells based on anion exchange membranes have the potential to alleviate most of these problems. However, little systematic knowledge of how best to design these materials exists at present despite the fact that liquid-electrolyte alkaline fuel cells were among the first fuel cells to be developed. The team of researchers is applying an integrated, iterative theoretical-experimental approach towards the targeted syntheses of polymers, the first-principles computer simulations of specific polymer chemistries, the mathematical and experimental characterization of structures/morphologies, and the measurement and computational modeling of long-range hydroxide ion transport. Through this cohesive effort, the team of investigators is aiming to advance fundamental science and engineering knowledge in the area of fuel cells membranes and to deduce a set of fundamental design principles for anion exchange membranes that accelerate the time between concept and production of practically useful materials.

Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/19


  • National Science Foundation: $410,000.00


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