Non-fluorinated pre-irradiation-grafted (peroxidated) LDPE-based anion-exchange membranes with high performance and stability
Radiation-grafted anion-exchange membrane (RG-AEM) research has predominantly focused on the chemical stability of the polymer-bound positively-charged head-groups that enable anion conduction. The effect of the backbone polymer chemistry, of the precursor film, on RG-AEM stability has been studied to a lesser extent and not for RG-AEMs made from pre-irradiation grafting of polymer films in air (peroxidation). The mechanical strength of polymer films is generally weakened by exposure to high radiation doses (e.g. from a high-energy e−-beam) and this is mediated by chemical degradation of the main chains: fluorinated films mechanically weaken at lower absorbed doses compared to non-fluorinated films. This study systematically compares the performance difference between RG-AEMs synthesised from a non-fluorinated polymer film (low-density polyethylene – LDPE) and a partially-fluorinated polymer film (poly(ethylene-co-tetrafluoroethylene) – ETFE) using the peroxidation method (pre-irradiation in air using an e−-beam). Both the LDPE and ETFE precursor films used were 25 μm in thickness, which led to RG-AEMs of hydrated thicknesses in the range 52–60 μm. The RG-AEMs (designated LDPE-AEM and ETFE-AEM, respectively) all contained identical covalently-bound benzyltrimethylammonium (BTMA) cationic head-groups. An LDPE-AEM achieved a OH− anion conductivity of 145 mS cm−1 at 80 °C in a 95% relative humidity environment and a Cl− anion conductivity of 76 mS cm−1 at 80 °C when fully hydrated. Alkali stability testing showed that the LDPE-AEM mechanically weakened to a much lower extent when treated in aqueous alkaline solution compared to the ETFE-AEM. This LDPE-AEM outperformed the ETFE-AEM in H2/O2 anion-exchange membrane fuel cell (AEMFC) tests due to high anion conductivity and enhanced in situ water transport (due to the lower density of the LDPE precursor): a maximum power density of 1.45 W cm−2 at 80 °C was achieved with an LDPE-AEM alongside a Pt-based anode and cathode (cf. 1.21 mW cm−2 for the benchmark ETFE-AEM). The development of more mechanically robust RG-AEMs has, for the first time, led to the ability to routinely test them in fuel cells at 80 °C (cf. 60 °C was the prior maximum temperature that could be routinely used with ETFE-based RG-AEMs). This development facilitates the application of non-Pt catalysts: 931 mW cm−2 was obtained with the use of a Ag/C cathode at 80 °C and a Ag loading of 0.8 mg cm−2 (only 711 mW cm−2 was obtained at 60 °C). This first report on the synthesis of large batch size LDPE-based RG-AEMs, using the commercially amenable peroxidation-type radiation-grafting process, concludes that the resulting LDPE-AEMs are superior to ETFE-AEMs (for the intended applications).
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2017 Energy and Environmental Science HOT articles