Washington: A new study conducted at Virginia Tech focuses on improving advanced polymers for fuel cells and reverse-osmosis water purification.
According to the researchers, in order to design new materials, it is imperative to understand the properties of today``s materials, one such being Nafion,
It is a polymer that efficiently conducts ions (a polymer electrolyte) and water through its nanostructure, making it important for many energy-related industrial applications.
It finds vital usage in fuel cells, organic batteries, and reverse-osmosis water purification.
To measure Nafion``s internal structure, two research groups combined forces to devise a way and in the process, discovered how to manipulate this structure to enhance the material``s applications.
Nafion is made up of molecules that combine the non-stick and tough nature of Teflon with the conductive properties of an acid, such as battery acid.
Researchers used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)to measure molecular motion, and a combination of NMR and X-ray scattering to measure molecular alignment within Nafion.
“We were looking at water molecules inside Nafion as internal reporters of structure and efficiency of conduction,” said Louis A. Madsen, professor of physical and polymer chemistry.
“The new feature we discovered is the locally aligned aggregates of polymer molecules in the material. The molecules align like strands of dry spaghetti lined up in a box. We can measure the speed (diffusion) of the water molecules and the direction they travel within those structures, which relates strongly to the alignment of the polymer molecule strands,” he added.
The study has been published in the current issue of Nature Materials.