Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New insights on an old material will enable design of better polymer batteries, water purification

20.06.2011
Designing new materials depends upon understanding the properties of today's materials.

One such material, Nafion ©, is a polymer that efficiently conducts ions (a polymer electrolyte) and water through its nanostructure, making it important for many energy-related industrial applications, including in fuel cells, organic batteries, and reverse-osmosis water purification. But since Nafion was invented 50 years ago, scientists have only been able to speculate about how to build new materials because they have not been able to see details on how the molecules come together and work within Nafion.

Now, two Virginia Tech research groups have combined forces to devise a way to measure Nafion's internal structure and, in the process, have discovered how to manipulate this structure to enhance the material's applications.

The research is published in the June 19 issue of Nature Materials in the Letters article, "Linear coupling of alignment with transport in a polymer electrolyte membrane," by Jing Li, Jong Keun Park, Robert B. Moore, and Louis A. Madsen, all with the chemistry department in the College of Science and the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute at Virginia Tech.

Nafion is made up of molecules that combine the non-stick and tough nature of Teflon with the conductive properties of an acid, such as battery acid. A network of tiny channels, nanometers in size, carries water or ions quickly through the polymer. "But, due to the irregular structure of Nafion, scientists have not been able to get reliable information about its properties using most standard analysis tools, such as transmission electron microscopy," said Madsen, assistant professor of physical, polymer, and materials chemistry.

Madsen and Moore, professor of physical and polymer chemistry; Madsen's post-doctoral associate Jing Li; and Moore's Ph.D. student Jong Keun Park, of Korea, were able to use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)to measure molecular motion, and a combination of NMR and X-ray scattering to measure molecular alignment within Nafion. "We were looking at water molecules inside Nafion as internal reporters of structure and efficiency of conduction," said Madsen. "The new feature we discovered is the locally aligned aggregates of polymer molecules in the material. The molecules align like strands of dry spaghetti lined up in a box. We can measure the speed (diffusion) of the water molecules and the direction they travel within those structures, which relates strongly to the alignment of the polymer molecule strands."

The researchers observed that the alignment of the channels influenced the speed and preferential direction of water motion. And a startlingly clear picture presented itself when the scientists stretched the Nafion and measured its structure and water motion.

"Stretching drastically influences the degree of alignment," said Madsen. "So the molecules move faster along the direction of the stretch, and in a very predictable way. These materials actually share some properties with liquid crystals -- molecules that line up with each other and are used in every LCD television, projector, and screen."

These relationships have not been previously recognized in a polymer electrolyte, Madsen said.

The ability to observe motion and direction, and understand what is happening within Nafion, has implications for using the material in new ways, and for designing new materials, the researchers write in the Nature Materials article. Ion-based applications could include actuator devices such as artificial muscles, organic batteries, and more energy efficient fuel cells. A water-based application would be improved reverse osmosis membranes for water purification.

Madsen and Moore started this collaborative project shortly after they arrived at Virginia Tech (Madsen in 2006, Moore in 2007), and they are furthering their work together by investigating new polymeric materials using their unique combination of analysis techniques.

"Alignment provides for a better flow of the molecules through the polymer," Madsen said.

The research is supported by Madsen's National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. His research focuses on improving advanced polymers for fuel cells and reverse-osmosis water purification by combining detailed analysis of these materials with theoretical understanding. The research is also supported by the US Army Research Office under Ionic Liquids in Electro-Active Devices (ILEAD) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant.

Moore is also associate director for research of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech.

Susan Trulove | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Osaka university researchers make the slipperiest surfaces adhesive
18.10.2017 | Osaka University

nachricht Think laterally to sidestep production problems
17.10.2017 | King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rapid environmental change makes species more vulnerable to extinction

19.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Integrated lab-on-a-chip uses smartphone to quickly detect multiple pathogens

19.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

Fossil coral reefs show sea level rose in bursts during last warming

19.10.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>