Effect of Backbone Structure on Membrane Properties for Poly(arylene ether) Random and Multiblock Copolymers

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Virginia Tech


Poly(arylene ether)s are a well-established class of thermoplastics that are known for their mechanical toughness, thermal stability, and fabrication into membranes. These materials can undergo a myriad of modifications including backbone structure variability, sulfonation, and crosslinking. In this dissertation, structure-property relationships are considered for poly(arylene ether)s with regard to membrane applications for proton exchange and gas separation membranes.

All of the proton exchange membranes in this dissertation focus on a disulfonated poly(arylene ether sulfone) based hydrophilic structure to produce hydrophilic-hydrophobic multiblock copolymers. The hydrophobic segments were based upon poly(arylene ether benzonitrile) polymers and copolymers. The oligomers were synthesized and isolated separately, then reacted under mild conditions to form the alternating multiblock copolymers. Structure-property relationships were considered for two different proton exchange membrane applications. One multiblock copolymer system was for H2/air fuel cells, and the other for direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs). The H2/air fuel cells operate under harsh conditions and varying levels of relative humidity, while the DMFCs operate in an aqueous environment with a methanol-water mixture (typically 0.5-1 M MeOH). Thus two different approaches were taken for the multiblock copolymers. All of the multiblock copolymers were cast into membranes and after annealing resulted in drastically reduced water uptake as compared to random and non-annealed systems. The membranes were characterized with regard to composition, mechanical properties, morphology, water uptake, proton conductivity, and molecular weight. Membranes were also sent to collaborators to elicit the fuel cell performance of the proton exchange membranes.

In H2/air fuel cells the approach was to increase charge density by bisphenol choice in the hydrophilic phase. This was performed by switching to a lower molecular weight monomer, hydroquinone, and a monosulfonated hydroquinone. This produced higher charge density in the hydrophilic phase, and the corresponding multiblock copolymer. With increased hydrophilicity the multiblock copolymers showed increased phase separation, proton conductivity, and better performance under relative humidity testing. In the second system for DMFCs, the primary goal was to reduce methanol permeability by bisphenol selection in the hydrophobic phase. This was done with by replacing fifty mole percent of the fluorinated monomer with a series of increasing hydrophobicity bisphenols. Addition of benzylic methyl groups on the bisphenols, was the method undertaken to increase the hydrophobicity. The combination of reduced fluorine content along with the addition of methyl groups resulted in multiblock copolymers with extremely low water uptake and methanol permeability. This allowed for a PEM with better performance than Nafion® in 1M MeOH in DMFC testing.

The gas separation membranes presented in this dissertation are based upon poly(arylene ether ketone)s. Two systems were presented: one with a polymer directly synthesized with a bisphenol containing benzylic methyl groups and 4,4'-difluorobenzophenone, and the other a difunctional poly(phenylene oxide) oligomer polymerized with 4,4'-difluorobenzophenone. These systems were crosslinked via UV light through excitation of the ketone group to the triplet state and then hydrogen abstraction from the benzylic methyl. Confirmation of crosslinking was performed via differential scanning calorimetry and infrared spectroscopy. Changes in the glass transitions between crosslinked and non-crosslinked materials were characterized with respect to the concentration of ketones to elicit the effects of crosslink density on the polymers and copolymers. Gas transport properties showed a strong dependence on the ketone percentage as the selectivity was much higher for the homopolymer, while the permeability was higher for the PPO copolymer in the CO2/CH4 and O2/N2 gas pairs.



Poly(arylene ether), membrane, multiblock copolymer, structure-property relationship