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Examining Structure-Property Relationships of Proton Exchange Membranes through the Study of Model Sulfonated Graft Copolymers

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
The role of polymer nanostructure on morphology, crystallinity, water sorption and proton conductivity was investigated using a model solid polymer electrolyte. Poly([vinylidene difluoride-co-chlorotrifluoroethylene]-graft-styrene) [P(VDF-co-CTFE)-g-PS], which consists of a hydrophobic, fluorous backbone and styrenic graft chains of varied length was synthesized with controlled chain architecture and chemical composition. The polystyrene graft chains were sulfonated to different degrees to provide three series of polymers with controlled ion exchange capacity (IEC). Due to chemical dissimilarity of the hydrophobic fluorous segments and the hydrophilic sulfonated polystyrene segments, the copolymers phase separate into ionic and non-ionic domains. The ionic domains allow transport of water and protons; the hydrophobic domains provide mechanical integrity, preventing the membranes from dissolving in water. The design of the model graft copolymers allows systematic examination of the effects of graft length and graft density on water sorption and proton conductivity. One of the major features of this work is that the sulfonated graft copolymers with shortest graft chains exhibit highest degree of crystallinity and highest PVDF content, which restrict excessive swelling and alleviate acid dilution, leading to a wider IEC operating range for high proton conductivity. Furthermore, the short graft copolymers allow access to very high IEC membranes that are insoluble in water. These short graft polymers with high IECs exhibit exceptionally high proton conduction under reduced humidity and elevated temperatures. In addition, for a given PVDF content, the lower graft density copolymers were observed to possess higher crystallinity and more contiguous PVDF domains that allow high IEC membranes to be prepared that possess lower degrees of swelling. Another important finding is that blending fully sulfonated graft copolymers with high molecular weight PVDF yields membranes with overall low IECs that exhibit highly localized ion content. This promotes the interconnection of ionic domains for effective proton transport while the more extended hydrophobic domains significantly reduce excessive swelling which serve to maintain the mechanical property of the membranes. This thesis describes a systematic approach, demonstrating the design, synthesis, characterization of model polymers, followed by the analysis of structure-property relationships in proton exchange membranes.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Holdcroft, Steven
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