Synthesis and Characterization of Sulfonated Poly (Arylene Ether Sulfone) Copolymers Via Direct Copolymerization: Candidates for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells

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Virginia Tech


A designed series of directly copolymerized homo- and disulfonated copolymers containing controlled degrees of pendant sulfonic acid groups have been synthesized via nucleophilic step polymerization. Novel sulfonated poly (arylene ether sulfone) copolymers using 4,4'-bisphenol A, 4,4'-biphenol, hexafluorinated (6F) bisphenol AF, and hydroquinone, respectively, with dichlorodiphenyl sulfone (DCDPS) and 3,3'-disodiumsulfonyl-4,4'-dichlorodiphenylsulfone (SDCDPS) were investigated. Molar ratios of DCDPS and SDCDPS were systematically varied to produce copolymers of controlled compositions, which contained up to 70 mol% of disulfonic acid moiety. The goal is to identify thermally, hydrolytically, and oxidatively stable high molecular weight, film-forming, ductile ion conducting copolymers, which had properties desirable for proton exchange membranes (PEM) in fuel cells.

Commercially available bisphenols were selected to produce cost effective alternative PEMs. Partially aliphatic bisphenol A and hexafluorinated (6F) bisphenol AF produced amorphous copolymers with different thermal oxidative and surface properties. Biphenol and hydroquinone was utilized to produce wholly aromatic copolymers.

The sulfonated copolymers were prepared in the sodium-salt form and converted to the acid moiety via two different methodologies and subsequently investigated as proton exchange membranes for fuel cells. Hydrophilicity increased with the level of disulfonation, as expected. Moreover, water sorption increased with increasing mole percent incorporation of SDCDPS. The copolymers' water uptake was a function of both bisphenol structure and degree of disulfonation. Furthermore, the acidification procedures were shown to influence the Tg values, water uptake, and conductivity of the copolymers. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) in the tapping mode confirmed that the morphology of the copolymers could be designed to display nanophase separation in the hydrophobic and hydrophilic (sulfonated) regions. Morphology with either co-continuous hydrophobic or hydrophilic domains could be attained for all the sulfonated copolymers. The degree of disulfonation required for continuity of the hydrophilic phase varied with biphenol structure.

Proton conductivity values for the sulfonated copolymers, under fully hydrated conditions, were a function of bisphenol and degree of sulfonation. However, at equivalent ion exchange capacities the proton conductivities were comparable. A careful balance of copolymer composition and acidification method was necessary to afford a morphology that produced ductile films, which were also sufficiently proton conductive. The copolymers of optimum design produced values of 0.1 S/cm or higher, which were comparable to the commercial polyperfluorosulfonic acid material Nafion™ control.



fuel cells, sulfonated poly (arylene ether sulfone) random co, proton exchange membranes, bisphenol structure, direct copolymerization