Specific ion effects on membrane potential and the permselectivity of ion exchange membranes
Membrane potential and permselectivity are critical parameters for a variety of electrochemically-driven separation and energy technologies. An electric potential is developed when a membrane separates electrolyte solutions of different concentrations, and a permselective membrane allows specific species to be transported while restricting the passage of other species. Ion exchange membranes are commonly used in applications that require advanced ionic electrolytes and span technologies such as alkaline batteries to ammonium bicarbonate reverse electrodialysis, but membranes are often only characterized in sodium chloride solutions. Our goal in this work was to better understand membrane behaviour in aqueous ammonium bicarbonate, which is of interest for closed-loop energy generation processes. Here we characterized the permselectivity of four commercial ion exchange membranes in aqueous solutions of sodium chloride, ammonium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and ammonium bicarbonate. This stepwise approach, using four different ions in aqueous solution, was used to better understand how these specific ions affect ion transport in ion exchange membranes. Characterization of cation and anion exchange membrane permselectivity, using these ions, is discussed from the perspective of the difference in the physical chemistry of the hydrated ions, along with an accompanying re-derivation and examination of the basic equations that describe membrane potential. In general, permselectivity was highest in sodium chloride and lowest in ammonium bicarbonate solutions, and the nature of both the counter- and co-ions appeared to influence measured permselectivity. The counter-ion type influences the binding affinity between counter-ions and polymer fixed charge groups, and higher binding affinity between fixed charge sites and counter-ions within the membrane decreases the effective membrane charge density. As a result permselectivity decreases. The charge density and polarizability of the co-ions also appeared to influence permselectivity leading to ion-specific effects; co-ions that are charge dense and have low polarizability tended to result in high membrane permselectivity.