Dielectric response and proton transport in water confined in graphene oxide†
Graphene oxide (GO) membranes possess a hierarchical microstructure, with well-ordered crystalline lamellae combining to form a macroscopic membrane. Water can intercalate in GO either in the sub-nanometer interlayer spaces or in the gaps between the lamellae known as voids; distinguishing the contribution of these two has been challenging. Addressing this challenge, we systematically study various properties of GO membranes exposed to controlled humidity levels ranging from 0% to 90% RH. Thickness-dependent dynamic vapor sorption is used to quantify the water content under different humidity environments. Complementing the vapor sorption studies, the AC impedance response of the GO membrane is determined at different humidity values. Our findings suggest that (a) most water gets absorbed in interlayer spaces at low humidity (<25% RH), (b) the fraction of water in the void spaces increases with RH%, (c) the lower bound for the dielectric constant of confined water is estimated to be εwater > 17, and (d) the conductivity increases by 5 to 6 orders of magnitude over a narrow range of water content (13 wt% to 31 wt%). The rapid increase in conductivity over a narrow range of water content suggests a percolative process for the protons. The dielectric constant estimates suggest that confined water behaves distinctly differently in a hydrophilic environment than in a hydrophobic one.