This project began the development of a low-cost, high-performance alkaline exchange membrane to replace the conventional water-based membrane for use in fuel cells. Previous alkaline exchange membrane technologies degraded and conducted hydroxide ions poorly. After initial study, this project developed a new membrane material that does not rely on water for proton conduction. The researchers used a copolymer structure composed of water-attracting and water-repulsing micro-sections. The hydrophobicity mismatch between the polysulfone and the polyethylene glycol was expected to drive micro-phase separation of the membrane into water-rich, conductive domains. The project demonstrated the concept, showing conductivity in the first phase of development in line with expectations. Further refinement of the membrane material continues in a follow-on project with Thomas Jaramillo, (Chemical Engineering). The follow-on project, funded by the TomKat Center, is developing a fuel cell that can store electricity by producing hydrogen from water and later produce power when the hydrogen is allowed to recombine to make water.
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