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Observation of Photovoltaic Action from Photoacid-Modified Nafion Due to Light-Driven Ion Transport


Replacing passive ion-exchange membranes, like Nafion, with membranes that use light to drive ion transport would allow membranes in photoelectrochemical technologies to serve in an active role. Toward this, we modified perfluorosulfonic acid ionomer membranes with organic pyrenol-based photoacid dyes to sensitize the membranes to visible light and initiate proton transport. Covalent modification of the membranes was achieved by reacting Nafion sulfonyl fluoride poly(perfluorosulfonyl fluoride) membranes with the photoacid 8-hydroxypyrene-1,3,6-tris(2-aminoethylsulfonamide). The modified membranes were strongly colored and maintained a high selectivity for cations over anions. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and ion-exchange measurements together provided strong evidence of covalent bond formation between the photoacids and the polymer membranes. Visible-light illumination of the photoacid-modified membranes resulted in a maximum power-producing ionic photoresponse of ∼100 μA/cm2 and ∼1 mV under 40 Suns equivalent excitation with 405 nm light. In comparison, membranes that did not contain photoacids and instead contained ionically associated RuII-polypyridyl coordination compound dyes, which are not photoacids, exhibited little-to-no photoeffects (∼1 μA/cm2). These disparate photocurrents, yet similar yields for nonradiative excited-state decay from the photoacids and the RuII dyes, suggest temperature gradients were not likely the cause of the observed photovoltaic action from photoacid-modified membranes. Moreover, spectral response measurements supported that light absorption by the covalently bound photoacids was required in order to observe photoeffects. These results represent the first demonstration of photovoltaic action from an ion-exchange membrane and offer promise for supplementing the power demands of electrochemical processes with renewable sunlight-driven ion transport.

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