Open Access
Fei, Shih-To
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 02, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Harry R Allcock, Dissertation Advisor
  • Harry R Allcock, Committee Chair
  • Tom Mallouk, Committee Member
  • Mary Beth Williams, Committee Member
  • Mark William Horn, Committee Member
  • lithium battery
  • electrolyte
  • Phosphazene
  • fuel cell
  • solar cell
  • actuator
This thesis research is devoted to the development of phosphazene-based electrolyte materials for use in various energy applications. Phosphazenes are inorganicorganic materials that provide unusal synthetic advantages and unique process features that make them useful in energy research. This particular thesis consists of six chapters and is focused on four specific aspects: lithium battery, solar cell, and fuel cell electrolytes, and artificial muscles. Chapter 1 is written as an introduction and review of phosphazene electrolytes used in energy applications. In this introduction the basic history and characteristics of the phosphazenes are discussed briefly, followed by examples of current and future applications of phosphazene electrolytes related to energy. Notes are included on how the rest of the chapters relate to previous work. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the conductivity and fire safety of ethyleneoxy phosphazene gel electrolytes. The current highly flammable configurations for rechargeable lithium batteries generate serious safety concerns. Although commercial fire retardant additives have been investigated, they tend to decrease the overall efficiency of the battery. In these two chapters the discussion is focused on ionically conductive, nonhalogenated lithium battery additives based on a methoxyethoxyethoxyphosphazene oligomer and the corresponding high polymer, both of which can increase the fire resistance of a battery while retaining a high energy efficiency. Conductivities in the range of 10−4 Scm−1 have been obtained for self-extinguishing, ion-conductive methoxyethoxyethoxyphosphazene oligomers. The addition of 25 wt% high polymeric poly[bis(methoxyethoxyethoxy)phosphazene] to propylene carbonate electrolytes lowers the flammability by 90% while maintaining a good ionic conductivity of 2.5×10−3 Scm−1. Chapter 2 is focused more on the electrochemical properties of the electrolytes and how they compare to other similar materials, while Chapter 3 emphasizes the flammability studies. Chapter 4 expands the application of the ethyleneoxy phosphazene system to dye sensitized solar cell systems, and uses this material as a model for the study of electrodeelectrolyte interfaces. We report here the results of our study on polymer electrolyte infiltration and its effect on dye-sensitized solar cells. In-depth studies have been made to compare the effects of different cell assembly procedures on the electrochemical properties as well as infiltration of electrolytes into various electrode designs. The first part of the study is based on the use of thermoplastic phosphazene electrolytes and how the overall fabrication procedure affects electrochemical performance, and the second is the use of cross-section microscopy to characterize the degree of electrolyte infiltration into various nanostructured titanium dioxide electrode surfaces. The results of this study should eventually improve the efficiency and longevity of thermally stable polymer dye solar cell systems. In Chapter 5 the effect of pendant polymer design on methanol fuel cell membrane performance was investigated. A synthetic method is described to produce a proton conductive polymer membrane with a polynorbornane backbone and inorganic– organic cyclic phosphazene pendent groups that bear sulfonic acid units. This hybrid polymer combines the inherent hydrophobicity and flexibility of the organic polymer with the tuning advantages of the cyclic phosphazene to produce a membrane with high proton conductivity and low methanol crossover at room temperature. The ion exchange capacity (IEC), the water swelling behavior of the polymer, and the effect of gamma radiation crosslinking were studied, together with the proton conductivity and methanol permeability of these materials. A typical membrane had an IEC of 0.329 mmolg−1 and had water swelling of 50 wt%. The maximum proton conductivity of 1.13×10−4 Scm−1 at room temperature is less than values reported for some commercially available materials such as Nafion. However the average methanol permeability was around 10−9 cms−1, which is one hundred times smaller than the value for Nafion. Thus, the new polymers are candidates for low-temperature direct methanol fuel cell membranes. Finally, Chapter 6 focuses on the electroactivity of a mixed-substituent phosphazene electrolyte and its viability as an actuator material. We report here an electrochemically responsive polymer hydrogel based on ionic crosslinking. The crosslinking by metal cations and anionic carboxylic acid side groups can be controlled by redox reactions. The crosslinks dissociate when the cation crosslinker is reduced to a lower oxidation state and reform following oxidation, which leads to a reversible and localized swelling–contraction. By choosing biocompatible components and miniaturization designs, the system has potential in microrobotic and biomedical applications.