Poly-4 -vinylpyridinebisulfate (P4VPBS) is a polymeric salt that has shown promise as a water-free proton-conducting material (solid electrolyte) suitable for use in membrane/electrode assemblies in fuel cells. Heretofore, proton-conducting membranes in fuel cells have been made from perfluorinated ionomers that cannot conduct protons in the absence of water and, consequently, cannot function at temperatures >100 °C. In addition, the stability of perfluorinated ionomers at temperatures >100 °C is questionable. However, the performances of fuel cells of the power systems of which they are parts could be improved if operating temperatures could be raised above 140 °C. What is needed to make this possible is a solidelectrolyte material, such as P4VPBS, that can be cast into membranes and that both retains proton conductivity and remains stable in the desired higher operating temperature range.

A family of solid-electrolyte materials different from P4VPBS was described in "Anhydrous Proton-Conducting Membranes for Fuel Cells" (NPO-30493), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 29, No. 8 (August 2005), page 48. Those materials notably include polymeric quaternized amine salts. If molecules of such a polymeric salt could be endowed with flexible chain structures, it would be possible to overcome the deficiencies of simple organic amine salts that must melt before being able to conduct protons. However, no polymeric quaternized amine salts have yet shown to be useful in this respect.

The present solid electrolyte is made by quaternizing the linear polymer poly- 4-vinylpyridine (P4VP) to obtain P4VPBS. It is important to start with P4VP having a molecular weight of 160,000 daltons because P4VPBS made from lower-molecular-weight P4VP yields brittle membranes.

In an experimental synthesis, P4VP was dissolved in methanol and then reacted with an excess of sulfuric acid to precipitate P4VPBS. The precipitate was recovered, washed several times with methanol to remove traces of acid, and dried to a white granular solid.

In another synthesis, nanoparticles of silica rich with surface hydroxyl groups were added to P4VP in methanol solution, which was then reacted with excess sulfuric acid to precipitate granules of a composite that most probably had the composition (P4VPBS)–SiO2–SiO(HSO4)2.

The granular P4VPBS produced in the first-mentioned synthesis was dissolved in water to make a gluelike, turbid solution; the granular P4VPBS/silica composite produced in the second-mentioned synthesis was mixed with water to make a turbid, gluelike suspension. The proportions of polymer salt to water in such preparations can be varied; it was found that approximately equal parts of water and polymer salt yield a solution or suspension amenable to further processing.