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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How the Hydrophobic Interface between a Perfluorosulfonic Acid Polymer and Water Vapor Controls Membrane Hydration

  • Author(s): Soniat, M;
  • Houle, FA
  • et al.

Stable hydration in perfluorinated polyelectrolyte membranes such as Nafion is essential to maintain good ion conductivity and manage permeation, especially in vapor-fed devices where water content depends on relative humidity in a gas stream. Extensive studies in the literature have shown that Nafion hydration in water vapor is controlled by its interfacial transport resistance. Nafion forms a fluorine-rich layer at the polymer-gas interface, and it has been proposed that this layer blocks water transport due to its hydrophobicity. To develop a molecular-level description of the physics underlying transport resistance in this system, we have performed a computational reaction-diffusion kinetics study of water evaporation from Nafion. Two distinct models are examined, one mimicking the blocking function proposed in the literature and the other assuming that there is no blocking, treating instead water evaporation as a dynamic balance between uptake from the gas and desorption from the polymer surface. Simulation results are compared to time-dependent infrared data over a range of 100-0% relative humidity from the literature. Only the dynamic model successfully reproduces experimental observations. This indicates that the physical nature of interfacial transport resistance is not slow diffusion across an interfacial layer; rather, it is due to the competition between dehydration and rehydration. The simulation data provide details on the accompanying water distributions throughout the membrane and on interfacial kinetics, showing that they are characterized by strong fluctuations.

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