Effect of hydration on the mechanical properties and ion conduction in a polyethylene-b-poly(vinylbenzyl trimethylammonium) anion exchange membrane
Anion exchange membranes (AEM) are promising solid polymer electrolytes utilized in alkali fuel cells and electrochemical energy conversion devices. AEMs must efficiently conduct ions while maintaining chemical and mechanical stability under a range of operating conditions. The ionic nature of AEMs leads to stiff and brittle membranes under dry conditions while at higher hydrations, water sorption causes significant softening and weakening of the membrane. In this work, a new polyethylene-b-poly(vinylbenzyl trimethylammonium) polymer (70 kg/mol) was cast into large (300 cm(2)), thin (12 +/- 3 mu m) membranes. These membranes exhibited improved elasticity over previously tested AEMs, minimal dimensional swelling, and moderate ionic conductivity (5 +/- 2 mS/cm at 50 degrees C, 95% RH in the bromide form). Extensional testing indicated a 95% reduction in Young's modulus between dry and hydrated states. Further investigation of the complex modulus as a function of hydration, by dynamic mechanical analysis, revealed a sharp decrease in modulus between dry and hydrated states. Mechanical softening was reversible, but the location of the transition displayed hysteresis between humidification and dehumidification. Conductivity increased after membrane softening; suggesting bulk mechanical properties can identify the hydration level required for improved ion transport. Understanding the relationship between ion conduction and mechanical properties will help guide AEM development and identify operating conditions for sustained performance. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.