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Keywords:

  • membranes;
  • microstructure;
  • multiblock copolymers;
  • phase separation;
  • polymerization;
  • polymer electrolyte fuel cells;
  • polymer electrolyte membranes;
  • poly(ether sulfone)s;
  • proton conductivity;
  • stepgrowth

Abstract

Highly sulfonated multiblock copoly(ether sulfone)s applicable to proton electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) were synthesized by the coupling reaction of corresponding hydroxyl- terminated oligomers in the presence of highly reactive decafluorobiphenyl (DFB) as a chain extender, followed by postsulfonation with concentrated sulfuric acid. Their molecular weights were reasonably high as determined by viscosity measurement (ηinh = 0.72–1.58 dL/g). It was also confirmed that postsulfonation selectively took place in hydrophilic segments to yield highly sulfonated multiblock copolymers (IEC = 1.90–2.75 mequiv/g). The resulting polymers gave transparent, flexible, and tough membranes by solution casting. The 4b membrane, as a representative sample, demonstrated good mechanical strength in the dry state regardless of high IEC value (2.75 mequiv/g). The 4a–c membranes with higher IEC values (IEC = 2.75–2.79 mequiv/g) maintained high water uptake (13.7–17.7 wt %) at 50% RH and it was still high (7.4–8.5 wt %) at 30% RH. Proton conductivity of all membranes at 80 °C and 95% RH was higher than that of Nafion 117. Furthermore, the 4a membrane showed high proton conductivity, comparable with Nafion 117 in the range of 50–95% RH, and maintained high proton conductivity (2.3 × 10−3 S/cm) even at 30% RH. Finally, the surface morphology of the membrane was investigated by tapping mode atomic force microscopy, which showed well-connected hydrophilic domains that could work as proton transportation channel. This phase separation and the high water uptake behavior probably contributed to high and effective proton conduction in a wide range of relative humidity. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part A: Polym Chem 48: 2757–2764, 2010