Interplay between Structure and Relaxations in Perfluorosulfonic Acid Proton Conducting Membranes
This study focuses on changes in the structure of ionomer membranes, provided by the 3M Fuel Cells Component Group, as a function of the equivalent weight (EW) and the relationship between the structure and the properties of the membrane. Wide-angle X-ray diffraction results showed evidence of both non-crystalline and crystalline ordered hydrophobic regions in all the EW membranes except the 700 EW membrane. The spectral changes evident in the vibrational spectra of the 3M membranes can be associated with two major phenomena: (1) dissociation of the proton from the sulfonic acid groups even in the presence of small amounts of water; and (2) changes in the conformation or the degree of crystallinity of the poly(tetrafluoroethylene) hydrophobic domains both as a function of EW and membrane water content. All the membranes, regardless of EW, are thermally stable up to 360 °C. The wet membranes have conductivities between 7 and 20 mS/cm at 125 °C. In this condition, the conductivity values follow VTF behavior, which suggests that the proton migration occurs via proton exchange processes between delocalization bodies (DBs) that are facilitated by the dynamics of the host polymer. The conductivity along the interface between the hydrophobic and hydrophilic domains makes a larger contribution in the smaller EW membranes likely due to the existence of a greater number of interfaces in the membrane. The larger crystalline domains present in the higher EW membranes provide percolation pathways for charge migration between DBs, which reduces the probability of charge transfer along the interface. Therefore, at higher EWs although there is charge migration along the interface within the hydrophobic?hydrophilic domains, the exchange of protons between different DBs is likely the rate-limiting step of the overall conduction process.