New high temperature proton conducting polymer electrolyte for sustainable energy conversion applications

Research area: Polymer science
Degree: Honours
Supervisors: Prof Namita Roy Choudhury, Prof Naba Dutta, Dr Anita Hill (CSIRO Process Science and Engineering) and Prof Steven Holdcroft (Simon Fraser University, Canada)

Summary: The fuel cell represents a fundamentally promising but different way of generating electrical power from a variety of fuels, which converts the chemical energy of a fuel and oxidant directly into electrical power. The key features of a fuel cell are its high-energy conversion efficiency, cleanliness and fuel flexibility.

The polymeric proton exchange membrane (PEM) is one of the key components in solid polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC). PEM fuel cells offer high power density, possess no corrosive liquids, are relatively simple, and operate at relatively low operating temperatures (50oC-95oC) and pressure (<5 atm). In a typical PEM fuel cell, a polymeric membrane provides the ionic path between the anode and the cathode of the galvanic cell and serves to separate the two-reactant gases. A profound drawback of current PEM, common to all aqueous-based proton exchange membranes, in general, is their inability to operate at temperature higher than 100oC, or under lower humidity, for extended periods.

This project will address the critical issue of operating proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) at above 100oC - a temperature desirable for several technical reasons, but destructive to current PEM and catalyst components. We will use the concept of incorporating inorganic nanoparticles/nanonetworks in mesophase separated polymer phase in order to lower the vapour pressure of water in the membrane. Advanced sol-gel methodology will be developed to prepare ionomer/inorganic hybrids that can be cast as membranes, and incorporated into gas diffusion electrodes, so as to prepare functional proton conducting polymers that operate in fuel cells, operating at temperatures > 100oC/relatively low (well below 100 %) relative humidity.

The other specific aim is to control and manipulate the morphology of the ionic block copolymer and inorganic networks, and correlate it with proton conductivity, The project will also examine the novel materials - mass transport properties on fuel cell, power density and efficiency, analysis of Membranes as Solid Polymer Electrolytes, Proton Conductivity, electrochemical characterization of membranes in contact with catalyst layers, loss of cell voltage under the influence of current load, etc.

This proposal represents a comprehensive interdisciplinary research involving inorganic modification of novel polymers and synthesis of organic-inorganic hybrid, their processing, and a range of novel characterization methods to establish microstructure-morphology-electrochemical property relationship. The researchers will have the opportunity to carry out research in different national and may be in international laboratories.

Areas of study and research

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