Polymer electrolytes are mixtures of a polar polymer and salt, in which the polymer replaces small molecule solvents and provides a dielectric medium so that ions can dissociate and migrate under the influence of an external electric field. Beginning in the 1970s, research in polymer electrolytes has been primarily motivated by their promise to advance electrochemical energy storage and conversion devices, such as lithium ion batteries, flexible organic solar cells, and anhydrous fuel cells. In particular, polymer electrolyte membranes (PEMs) can improve both safety and energy density by eliminating small molecule, volatile solvents and enabling an all-solid-state design of electrochemical cells. The outstanding challenge in the field of polymer electrolytes is to maximize ionic conductivity while simultaneously addressing orthogonal mechanical properties, such as modulus, fracture toughness, or high temperature creep resistance. The crux of the challenge is that flexible, polar polymers best-suited for polymer electrolytes (e.g., poly(ethylene oxide)) offer little in the way of mechanical robustness. Similarly, polymers typically associated with superior mechanical performance (e.g., poly(methyl methacrylate)) slow ion transport due to their glassy polymer matrix. The design strategy is therefore to employ structured electrolytes that exhibit distinct conducting and mechanically robust phases on length scales of tens of nanometers.This thesis reports a remarkably simple, yet versatile synthetic strategy---termed polymerization-induced phase separation, or PIPS---to prepare PEMs exhibiting an unprecedented combination of both high conductivity and high modulus. This performance is enabled by co-continuous, isotropic networks of poly(ethylene oxide)/ionic liquid and highly crosslinked polystyrene. A suite of in situ, time-resolved experiments were performed to investigate the mechanism by which this network morphology forms, and it appears to be tied to the disordered structure observed in diblock polymer melts near the order-disorder transition. In the resulting solid PEMs, the conductivity and modulus are both high, exceeding the 1 mS/cm and approaching the 1 GPa metrics, respectively, often cited for lithium-metal batteries. In the final chapter, an alternative synthetic route to generate nanostructured PEMs is presented. This strategy relies on the formation of a thermodynamically stable network morphology exhibited by a triblock terpolymer prepared with crosslinking moieties along the backbone. Although the mechanical properties of the resulting PEM are excellent, the conductivity is found to be somewhat limited by network defects that result from the solvent-casting procedure.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2014. Major: Chemical Engineering. Advisor: Timothy P. Lodge. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 235 pages, appendices A-C.
Decoupling mechanical and ion transport properties in polymer electrolyte membranes.
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