The development of anion exchange membranes (AEMs) has reached a new milestone thanks to a team of researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). Led by Prof. Xu Tongwen and Ge Xiaolin, this team has designed a groundbreaking spiro-branched polymeric membrane that has shown exceptional performance in flow battery applications.

Traditionally, AEMs have struggled with balancing ion conductivity, selectivity, and stability. The lack of efficiency and reliability in conducting ions has limited the overall performance of these membranes. Microphase separation methods have not been able to effectively address these issues, leading to tradeoffs that hinder the potential of AEMs in various applications.

The research team’s novel approach involved creating a spiro-branched polymeric membrane using stereotwisted spiro scaffolds and poly (aryl piperidinium) based on an all-carbon backbone. By combining the rigidity of spiro units with the flexibility of branched chains, the team aimed to enhance the free volume within the polymer and create efficient ion transport pathways. This innovative configuration has resulted in highly connected sub-nanometer ion channels, significantly improving the membrane’s performance.

Through comprehensive structural characterization, including morphology analysis using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), as well as porosity measurements, the researchers unveiled a semi-flexible 3D loosely packed network within the membrane. This structure increases the free volume and creates the highly connected ion channels responsible for the exceptional anion conductivity of the spiro-branched polymeric membrane. Performance evaluation demonstrated chloride ion conductivities exceeding 60 mS cm-1 at 30°C and up to 120 mS cm-1 at 80°C, showcasing the membrane’s superior power density and energy efficiency in flow battery applications.

The spiro-branched polymeric membranes also exhibited excellent chemical stability in vanadium redox flow batteries, indicating their long-term potential for use in energy storage systems. This breakthrough in membrane material design offers a new strategy for addressing various energy and environmental challenges, paving the way for more efficient and sustainable energy storage technologies.

The research conducted by the team at USTC represents a significant advancement in the field of AEMs and energy storage technology. The development of the spiro-branched polymeric membrane opens up new possibilities for enhancing the performance and sustainability of various applications, marking a promising future for the use of AEMs in energy storage systems.


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