Chemical and Morphological Origins of Improved Ion Conductivity in Perfluoro Ionene Chain Extended Ionomers
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1021/jacs.9b05322
The performance of ion-conducting polymer membranes is complicated by an intricate interplay between chemistry and morphology that is challenging to understand. Here, we report on perfuoro ionene chain extended (PFICE) ionomers that contain either one or two bis(sulfonyl)imide groups on the side-chain in addition to a terminal sulfonic acid group. PFICE ionomers exhibit greater water uptake and conductivity compared to prototypical perfluorinated sulfonic acid ionomers. Advanced in situ synchrotron characterization reveals insights into the connections between molecular structure and morphology that dictate performance. Guided by first-principles calculations, X-ray absorption spectroscopy at the sulfur K-edge can discern distinct protogenic groups and be sensitive to hydration level and configurations that dictate proton dissociation. In situ resonant X-ray scattering at the sulfur K-edge reveals that PFICE ionomers have a phase-separated morphology with enhanced short-range order that persists in both dry and hydrated states. The enhanced conductivity of PFICE ionomers is attributed to a unique multi-acid side-chain chemistry and structure that facilitates proton dissociation at low water content in combination with a well-ordered phase-separated morphology with nanoscale transport pathways. Overall, these results provide insights for the design of new ionomers with tunable phase separation and improved transport properties as well as demonstrating the efficacy of X-rays with elemental sensitivity for unraveling structural features in chemically heterogeneous functional materials for electrochemical energy applications.