Radiation-grafted cation-exchange membranes: an initial ex situ feasibility study into their potential use in reverse electrodialysis
A variety of radiation-grafted cation-exchange membranes (RG-CEM) were synthesised, using a high-dose rate electron-beam peroxidation method, for an initial evaluation of their applicability to reverse electrodialysis cells (RED, a type of salinity gradient “blue” energy). The RG-CEMs were adequately conductive (to Na+ cations) but without the incorporation of crosslinking co-monomers, the permselectivities were too low (≤80%). In contrast, when ETFE-based RG-CEMs were synthesised with incorporation of 10% mol bis(vinylphenyl)ethane (BVPE) crosslinking co-monomer into the styrene-containing grafting mixture, permselectivities of >90% were obtained without a significant decrease in conductivity. The use of BVPE in the grafting mixture also resulted in the RG-CEMs exhibiting enhanced ion-exchange capacities without any increase in water uptakes (cf. uncrosslinked variants). In contrast, the use of less flexible divinylbenzene crosslinker led to prohibitively large decreases in RG-CEM conductivity. This study highlights that the future development of both radiation-grafted cation-exchange and anion-exchange membranes for RED (and other electrodialysis applications) should utilise flexible crosslinkers (such as BVPE) to ensure adequate permselectivities.