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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Toward predictive permeabilities: Experimental measurements and multiscale simulation of methanol transport in Nafion


A polymer membrane's permeability to solutes determines its suitability for various applications: a permeability value is essential for predicting performance in diverse contexts. Using aqueous methanol permeation through Nafion as an example, we describe a methodology for determining membrane permeability that accounts for boundary layer effects and the possibility of swelling. For the materials and apparatus used herein, analysis of a permeance measurement and computational fluid dynamics simulations show that the mass transfer boundary layer is on the order of ones to tens of microns. The data are used to develop and validate a multiscale model describing solute permeation through a hydrated membrane as a series of physical mechanistic steps: reversible adsorption from solution at the membrane interface, diffusion driven by a concentration gradient within the membrane, and reversible desorption into solution at the opposite membrane interface. The validated model is used to predict methanol transport across a solar-driven CO2 reduction device and to assess the impact of polymer changes on the measured value. The approach of combining experimental data, computational fluid dynamics, and the mechanistic multiscale model is expected to provide more accurate analysis of membrane permeation data in cases with polymer swelling or unusual device geometries, among others.

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