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Understanding Multi-Ion Transport Mechanisms in Bipolar Membranes


Bipolar membranes (BPMs) have the potential to become critical components in electrochemical devices for a variety of electrolysis and electrosynthesis applications. Because they can operate under large pH gradients, BPMs enable favorable environments for electrocatalysis at the individual electrodes. Critical to the implementation of BPMs in these devices is understanding the kinetics of water dissociation that occurs within the BPM as well as the co- and counter-ion crossover through the BPM, which both present significant obstacles to developing efficient and stable BPM-electrolyzers. In this study, a continuum model of multi-ion transport in a BPM is developed and fit to experimental data. Specifically, concentration profiles are determined for all ionic species, and the importance of a water-dissociation catalyst is demonstrated. The model describes internal concentration polarization and co- and counter-ion crossover in BPMs, determining the mode of transport for ions within the BPM and revealing the significance of salt-ion crossover when operated with pH gradients relevant to electrolysis and electrosynthesis. Finally, a sensitivity analysis reveals that the performance and lifetime of BPMs can be improved substantially by using of thinner dissociation catalysts, managing water transport, modulating the thickness of the individual layers in the BPM to control salt-ion crossover, and increasing the ion-exchange capacity of the ion-exchange layers in order to amplify the water-dissociation kinetics at the interface.

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