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Ion Transport in Nanostructured Block Copolymer/Ionic Liquid Membranes

  • Author(s): Hoarfrost, Megan Lane
  • Advisor(s): Segalman, Rachel A
  • et al.

Incorporating an ionic liquid into one block copolymer microphase provides a platform for combining the outstanding electrochemical properties of ionic liquids with a number of favorable attributes provided by block copolymers. In particular, block copolymers thermodynamically self-assemble into well-ordered nanostructures, which can be engineered to provide a durable mechanical scaffold and template the ionic liquid into continuous ion-conducting nanochannels. Understanding how the addition of an ionic liquid affects the thermodynamic self-assembly of block copolymers, and how the confinement of ionic liquids to block copolymer nanodomains affects their ion-conducting properties is essential for predictable structure-property control.

The lyotropic phase behavior of block copolymer/ionic liquid mixtures is shown to be reminiscent of mixtures of block copolymers with selective molecular solvents. A variety of ordered microstructures corresponding to lamellae, hexagonally close-packed cylinders, body-centered cubic, and face-centered cubic oriented micelles are observed in a model system composed of mixtures of imidazolium bis(trifluoromethylsulfonyl)imide ([Im][TFSI]) and poly(styrene-b-2-vinyl pyridine) (PS-b-P2VP). In contrast to block copolymer/molecular solvent mixtures, the interfacial area occupied by each PS-b-P2VP chain decreases upon the addition of [Im][TFSI], indicating a considerable increase in the effective segregation strength of the PS-b-P2VP copolymer with ionic liquid addition.

The relationship between membrane structure and ionic conductivity is illuminated through the development of scaling relationships that describe the ionic conductivity of block copolymer/ionic liquid mixtures as a function of membrane composition and temperature. It is shown that the dominant variable influencing conductivity is the overall volume fraction of ionic liquid in the mixture, which means there is incredible freedom in designing the block copolymer architecture in order to optimize the mechanical and other properties of the membrane without sacrificing conductivity. The derived scaling relationships are shown to be general for many block copolymer and ionic liquid chemistries.

In certain cases, the mechanism of ion conduction in the ionic liquid is affected by block copolymer nanoconfinement. The introduction of excess neutral imidazole to [Im][TFSI] leads to enhanced proton conductivity as well as a high H+ transference number due to facilitated proton hopping between imidazole molecules. We show that there is increased proton hopping when the nonstoichiometric ionic liquid is confined to lamellar block copolymer nanodomains, which we hypothesize is due to changes in the hydrogen bond structure of the ionic liquid under confinement. This, in combination with unique ion aggregation behavior, leads to a lower activation energy for macroscopic ion transport compared to that in a corresponding homopolymer/ionic liquid mixture.

Through this work, we further the understanding of the relationship between membrane composition, structure, and ion transport. The findings presented herein portend the rational design of nanostructured membranes having improved mechanical properties and conductivity.

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