Fuel cells, Polymers, Proton exchange membrane fuel cells


Fuel cells have long been seen as an alternative to combustion powered and diesel powered engines and turbines. Production of energy via a fuel cell conversion method can generate up to 60% efficiency in comparison to 30% using a combustion powered engine, with low co-production of harmful side-products. The polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) adapted for the fuel cell application is one of the main components that determines the overall efficiency. This research project was focused towards novel PEMs, such as sulfonated poly(etheretherketone) or SPEEK, which are cost-efficient and robust with high proton conductivities under hydrated conditions. The degree of sulfonation (DS) of a particular SPEEK polymer determines the proton conducting ability, as well as the long term durability. For SPEEK with high DS, the proton conduction is facile, but the mechanical stability of the polymer decreases almost proportionally. While low DS SPEEK does not have sufficient sulfonic acid density for fast proton conduction in the membrane, the membrane keeps its mechanical integrity under fully saturated conditions. The main purpose of this work was to address both issues encountered with SPEEK sulfonated to low and high DS. The addition of both solid acids and synthetic cross-links were studied to address the main downfalls of the respective SPEEK polymers. Optimization of these techniques led to increased understanding of PEMs and notably better electrochemical performance of these fuel cell materials. Oxo-acids such as tungsten (VI) oxide (WO3) and phosphotungstic acid (PTA) have been identified as candidate materials for creating SPEEK composite membranes. The chemistry of these oxo-acids is well known, with their use as highly acidic catalyst iv centers adopted for countless homogeneous and heterogeneous, organic and inorganic reactions. Uniform dispersion of WO3 hydrate in SPEEK solution was done by a sol-gel process in which the filler particles were grown in an ionomer solution, cast and allowed to dry. PTA composites were made by adding the solid acid directly to a solution of the ionomer and casting. The latter casting was allowed to dry and Cs+ - exchanged to stabilize the PTA from dissolution and leaching from the membrane. The chemical and physical properties of these membranes were characterized and evaluated using mainly conductometric and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic methods. Composite SPEEK/ PTA membranes showed a 50% decrease in PEM resistance under hydrogen fuel cell testing conditions, while SPEEK/ WO3 composites demonstrated a ten-fold increase in the membrane's in-plane proton conductivity. The chemical and physical properties of these composites changed with respect to their synthesis and fabrication procedures. This study will expound upon their relations.


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Graduation Date





Diaz, Diego J.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences










Release Date

December 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

Included in

Chemistry Commons