Synthesis and Characterization of Ionomers as Polymer Electrolytes for Energy Conversion Devices

Open Access
Oh, Hyukkeun
Graduate Program:
Materials Science and Engineering
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 06, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Qing Wang, Dissertation Advisor
  • Qing Wang, Committee Chair
  • James Patrick Runt, Committee Member
  • Michael Anthony Hickner, Committee Member
  • Donghai Wang, Committee Member
  • Fuel Cells
  • Lithium Batteries
  • Polymer Electrolytes
  • Ionomers
Single-ion conducting electrolytes present a unique alternative to traditional binary salt conductors used in lithium-ion batteries. Secondary lithium batteries are considered as one of the leading candidates to replace the combustible engines in automotive technology, however several roadblocks are present which prevent their widespread commercialization. Power density, energy density and safety properties must be improved in order to enable the current secondary lithium battery technology to compete with existing energy technologies. It has been shown theoretically that single-ion electrolytes can eliminate the salt concentration gradient and polarization loss in the cell that develops in a binary salt system, resulting in substantial improvements in materials utilization for high power and energy densities. While attempts to utilize single-ion conducting electrolytes in lithium-ion battery systems have been made, the low ionic conductivities prevented the successful operation of the battery cells in ambient conditions. This work focuses on designing single-ion conducting electrolytes with high ionic conductivities and electrochemical and mechanical stability which enables the stable charge-discharge performance of battery cells. Perfluorosulfonate ionomers are known to possess exceptionally high ionic conductivities due to the electron-withdrawing effect caused by the C-F bonds which stabilizes the negative charge of the anion, leading to a large number of free mobile cations. The effect of perfluorinated sulfonic acid side chains on transport properties of proton exchange membrane polymers was examinated via a comparison of three ionomers, having different side chain structures and a similar polymer backbone. The three different side chain structures were aryl-, pefluoro alkyl-, and alkyl-sulfonic acid groups, respectively. All ionomers were synthesized and characterized by 1H and 19F NMR. A novel ionomer synthesized with a pendant perfluorinated sulfonic acid group and a poly(ether ether ketone) backbone showed the highest proton conductivity and proton diffusion coefficient among the three ionomers, demonstrating the effect of the perfluorinated side chains. The proton conductivity of the novel ionomer was comparable to that of Nafion over a wide humidity range and temperature. A lithium perfluorosulfonate ionomer based on aromatic poly(arylene ether)s with pendant lithium perfluoroethyl sulfonates was prepared by ion exchange of the perlfuorosulfonic acid ionomer, and subsequently incoroporated into a lithium-ion battery cell as a single-ion conducting electrolyte. The microporous polymer film saturated with organic carbonates exhibited a nearly unity Li+ transfer number, high ionic conductivity (e.g. > 10-3 S m-1 at room temperature) over a wide range of temperatures, high electrochemical stability, and excellent mechanical properties. Excellent cyclability with almost identical charge and discharge capacities have been demonstrated at ambient temperature in the batteries assembled from the prepared single-ion conductors. The mechanical stability of the polymer film was attributed to the rigid polymer backbone which was largely unaffected by the presence of plasticizing organic solvents, while the porous channels with high concentration of the perfluorinated side chains resulted in high ionic conductivity. The expected high charge-rate performance was not achieved, however, due to the high interfacial impedance present between the polymer electrolyte and the electrodes. Several procedural modifications were employed in order to decrease the interfacial impedance of the battery cell. The poly(arylene ether) based ionomer was saturated with an ionic liquid mixture, in order to explore the possibility of its application as a safe, inflammable electrolyte. A low-viscosity ionic liquid with high ionic conductivity, 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium thiocyanate which has never been successfully utilized as an electrolyte for lithium-ion batteries was incorporated into a battery cell as a solvent mixture with propylene carbonate and lithium bis(trifluoromethane)sulfonimide impregnated in a free-standing hybrid electrolyte film. Outstanding ionic conductivity was achieved and the lithium half cell comprising a LTO cathode and a lithium metal anode separated by the solid polymer electrolyte showed good cyclability at room temperature and even at 0oC. The presence of a sufficient amount of propylene carbonate, which resulted in flammability of the polymer electrolyte, was discovered to be critical in the electrochemical stability of the polymer electrolyte.