Polymer membrane separators play a crucial function in many energy and water technologies including energy storage, hydrogen generation through water electrolysis, and fuel-cell-based stationary and transportation power systems. The cost and performance of current polymer membranes have hindered the widespread adoption of these clean energy technologies. An inexpensive poly(phenylene)-based hydrocarbon polymer membrane separator was developed to encourage increased implementation of the next generation of energy-water systems.

The new polymer membrane separator provides a more efficient alternative to current fuel cell membranes.

The membrane technology starts with a poly(phenylene) backbone that is chemically functionalized based on the intended application, which greatly reduces manufacturing costs. For instance, the membrane can be optimized for transportation of protons (H+) or hydroxyl ions (OH-), depending on the acidic or alkaline environment of the energy-water system. To further reduce costs, the membrane is designed to eliminate the need for precious metal catalysts.

Benefits of the new separator include high ion conductivities, reduced crossover, the ability to operate over a wide temperature range, and chemical and thermal stability in acidic and alkaline environments.

This technology can reduce costs associated with stationary energy storage and promote growth of renewable energy sources while providing grid stability. It also provides a more efficient, cheaper alternative to membranes currently used in fuel cell vehicles that are becoming strong competitors to electric vehicles due to their shorter refueling times and longer driving ranges. This is the first membrane technology of its kind to demonstrate superior performance and cost savings over current state-of-the-art.

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