The development and implementation of high-throughput tools for discovery and characterization of proton exchange membranes
Reed, Keith Gregory
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The need for sustainable energy use has motivated the exploration of renewable alternative fuels and fuel conversion technology on a global scale. Fuel cells, which convert chemical energy directly into electrical energy with high efficiency and low emissions, provide a promising strategy for achieving energy sustainability. The current progress in fuel cell commercialization is mainly in portable and stationary applications, but fuel cell technology for transportation applications, which make up a substantial portion of the global energy market, have seen little commercial success. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) have high potential for addressing the future energy needs of the transportation energy sector. However, one of the prevailing limitations of the PEMFC is the availability of high-performance, cost-effective electrolyte materials. These materials may be realized in the near future by developing multi-functional polymer blends targeted at specific performance capabilities. Due to the near-infinite possibilities of polymer combinations and processing techniques high-throughput polymer characterization techniques are necessary to effectively and systematically screen for optimal materials and relevant structure-property relationships. In this work, a high-throughput mass transport assay (HT-MTA) has been developed to characterize water flux and permeability at multiple sample locations in parallel. The functionality of HT-MTA was evaluated using standard Nafion® films and a model semi-interpenetrated polymer network with commercial polyvinylidine fluoride as the host matrix for a proprietary polyelectrolyte supplied by Arkema, Inc. To further demonstrate the utility of HT-MTA, the instrument was incorporated into the lab's current high-throughput characterization toolset and used to investigate the mechanisms and effects of rapid free radical degradation of Nafion® membranes based on various concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and iron(II) sulfate in solution. The results have been used suggest the effects of these regent components on preferential degradation pathways and will prove to be useful in later simulating the membrane performance during in-situ fuel cell lifetime which is both time-intensive and costly. The high-throughput toolset was also used to develop a novel optimized blend consisting of polyetherimide (PEI), a low-cost high performance resin, and sulfonated PEI (S-PEI) made using a relatively mild post sulfonation reaction with trimethylsilyl chlorosulfonate. The effects of blend composition and thermal annealing on film performance were evaluated and the polymer system was shown to have optimal performance properties that should prove to be useful in other high-performance applications where mechanical strength is critical. In general, this work shows promising results for efficiently developing advanced polymer materials using high-throughput screening techniques.