- Polymers Journal
- January 2021
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International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
- The effect of relative humidity (RH) and degree of sulfonation () on the ionic conductivity and water uptake of proton-exchange membranes based on sulfonated multiblock copolymers composed of polysulfone (PSU) and polyphenylsulfone (PPSU) is examined experimentally and numerically. Three membranes with a different and ion-exchange capacity are analyzed. The heterogeneous structure of the membranes shows a random distribution of sulfonated (hydrophilic) and non-sulfonated (hydrophobic) domains, whose proton conductivity is modeled based on percolation theory. The mesoscopic model solves simplified Nernst–Planck and charge conservation equations on a random cubic network. Good agreement is found between the measured ionic conductivity and water uptake and the model predictions. The ionic conductivity increases with RH due to both the growth of the hydrated volume available for conduction and the decrease of the tortuosity of ionic transport pathways. Moreover, the results show that the ionic conductivity increases nonlinearly with , experiencing a strong rise when the is varied from 0.45 to 0.70, even though the water uptake of the membranes remains nearly the same. In contrast, the increase of the ionic conductivity between and is significantly lower, but the water uptake increases sharply. This is explained by the lack of microphase separation of both copolymer blocks when the is exceedingly high. Encouragingly, the copolymer membranes demonstrate a similar performance to Nafion under well hydrated conditions, which can be further optimized by a combination of numerical modeling and experimental characterization to develop new-generation membranes with better properties.
- ionic conductivity; water uptake; multiblock copolymer; percolation theory; modeling; characterization; proton-exchange membrane