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Keywords:

  • anion exchange membrane;
  • cationic polymer;
  • conductivity;
  • fuel cell;
  • hydrophilic polymers;
  • membranes;
  • phase separation;
  • stability

ABSTRACT

This short review is meant to provide the reader with highlights in anion exchange membrane research, describe current needs in the field, and point out promising directions for future work. Anion exchange membranes (AEMs) provide one possible route to low platinum or platinum-free fuel cells with the potential for facile oxidation of complex fuels beyond hydrogen and methanol. AEMs and related stable cationic polymers also have applications in energy storage and other electrochemical technologies such as water electrolyzers and redox flow batteries. While anion exchange membranes have been known for a long time in water treatment applications, materials for electrochemical technology with robust mechanical properties in thin film format have only recently become more widely available. High hydroxide and bicarbonate anion conductivity have been demonstrated in a range of AEM formats, but intrinsic stability of the polymers and demonstration of long device lifetime remain major roadblocks. Novel approaches to stable materials have focused on new types of cations that employ delocalization and steric shielding of the positive center to mitigate nucleophilic attack by hydroxide. A number of promising polymer backbones and membrane architectures have been identified, but limited device testing and a lack of understanding of the degradation mechanisms in operating devices is slowing progress on engineered systems with alkaline fuel cell technology. Our objective is to spur more research in this area to develop fuel cell systems that approach the costs of inexpensive batteries for large-scale applications. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J. Polym. Sci., Part B: Polym. Phys. 2013, 51, 1727–1735, 2013