Measuring and improving the performance of PVA/Cellulose cation exchange membranes

In a previous post I described how to create a DIY cation exchange membrane using some easy to get materials. These membranes could achieve significant permselectivity values, but still far away from those required to create membranes for a robust flow battery. Additionally, the sheet resistance of these membranes – which I measured using a 4 contact electrode method – was quite bad, with values often greater than 6000 ohm/cm2. The through plane resistance was around 3x that, although my method for through-plane resistance measurement is not reliable yet.

Some of the last membranes I produced using a PVA solution with a pH in the 6-7 range. The membrane remains an off-white yellowish color, but does not oxidize as in my previous tests.

In this post, I want to talk about the advancements I have made to improve the fabrication of these membranes. First of all, I have lowered the preparation temperature to 150C, this avoids charring the membranes and improves reproducibility. I also added 80 minutes of additional time at these temperature once all the PVA coats have been put on, this improves crosslinking and drastically reduces the solubility of the membrane in water (to the point where it becomes fully insoluble).

I have also found out that decreasing the acidity by adding some potassium hydroxide also helps retain membranes structure, increase permselectivty and decrease sheet resistance. This matches some papers on cellulose phosphorylation using potassium phosphate and ammonium phosphate salts, with solutions that have much higher pH values than phosphoric acid. The higher pH helps preserve the structure of the cellulose and PVA, as a lack of acid reduces the changes of degradation of the cellulose and PVA. The phosphorylation still happens, thanks to the urea catalyst present.

With this in mind, the membranes can probably be made using monopotassium or monoammonium phosphates, much more readily and less dangerous chemicals compared to concentrated phosphoric acid and potassium hydroxide.

One of my last experiments to measure permselectivity. The cell to the right contains a very small amount of NaFe(EDDHA), which has a very deep red color. This makes it very easy to see membrane crossover.

The best values I have achieved so far are a permselectivity of 80% and a sheet resistance of 373 ohm/cm2. These are still much worse than those of commercially available membranes, but certainly better than the values I was achieving before.

From the parameters I have tested, the cross-linking temperature and pH seem to be the most important to the qualities of the membrane, so I will try to study these too with a bit more detail to find out if I can produce membranes with better qualities. Increasing the concentration of P at higher pH values with higher urea quantities might also help achieve better cross-linking.

2 thoughts on “Measuring and improving the performance of PVA/Cellulose cation exchange membranes

  1. Giancarlo Buffon

    Thanks for sharing your work. Flow batteries are fascinating but a lot of people shy away from experimenting with them because of the membrane.

    A you-tuber called MysteriusBhoice has put out a few CEM videos. Have a look at where he step by step makes CEM’s using a wash cloth as the base support for the membrane.

    I don’t know if the info will be useful but I thought it might be worth mentioning.


  2. Pingback: Nafion equivalent permselectivity values using a DIY PVA/Cellulose cation exchange membrane | Chemisting

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