This paper discusses a new class of proton exchange membranes (PEMs) that are based on a well-controlled polyolefin graft copolymer containing a polyethylene (PE) backbone and several sulfonated poly(arylene ether sulfone) (s-PAES) side chains. The chemistry involves a graft-onto reaction between high molecular weight PE with few pendent benzyl bromide groups and poly(arylene ether sulfone) (PAES) with two terminal phenol groups. The resulting PE-g-PAES graft copolymer, with predetermined backbone molecular weight, graft density, and graft length, was solution-cast into uniform film (thickness 20-40 μm), followed by a heterogeneous sulfonation reaction of PAES side chains to obtain the desired PE-g-s-PAES PEMs with a high sulfonation level. The unique combination of hydrophobicity, semicrystallinity, and high molecular weight of the PE backbone offers PEM with a stable (nonswellable) matrix. The embedded hydrophilic s-PAES proton-conductive domains show only moderate water uptake, even with a high ion exchange capacity (IEC >3 mmol/g in the s-PAES domains). Compared to Nafion 117, most PE-g-s-PAES PEMs show similar hydration numbers (λ <15) but higher proton conductivity (up to 160 mS/cm). More interestingly, all PE-g-s-PAES PEMs show higher through-plane conductivity than in-plane conductivity. Evidently, a thin hydrophobic PE layer is formed on the PEM surfaces due to the low surface energy of PE, resulting in anisotropic conductivity. Overall, this newly developed PE-g-s-PAES membrane offers a combination of desirable properties, including conductivity, water uptake, mechanical strength, and cost-effectiveness for fuel cell applications.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Organic Chemistry
- Polymers and Plastics
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Materials Chemistry