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Sulfonated polymers are made by the direct polymerization of a sulfonated monomer to form the sulfonated polymers. The types of sulfonated polymers may include polysulfones or polyimides. The sulfonated polymers can be formed into membranes that may be used in proton exchange membrane fuel cells or as ion exchange membranes. The membranes formed from the sulfonated polymers exhibit improved properties over that of Nafion®. A heteropoly acid may be added to the sulfonated polymer to form a nanocomposite membrane in which the heteropoly acid is highly dispersed. The addition of a heteropoly acid to the sulfonated polymer increases the thermal stability of the membrane, enhances the conductivity above 100° C., and reduces the water uptake of the membrane.