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Figure: Molecular modifications yielding highly promising, fluorene-free, high-performance proton exchange membranes (PEMs).

Turning over a new leaf: How robust synthetic methods and molecular modifications are paving the way to high-performance, greener fuel cells

The motivation The Holdcroft group at Simon Fraser University recently published the development of a novel synthetic method that allowed them to prepare a proof-of-concept, fluorene-free proton conducting polymer for the purpose of fabricating proton exchange membrane fuel cells. In their current study, they sought to improve on the promising attributes of the original polymer - through judicious molecular design and chemical structure modifications.

The discovery – The authors found that through modifying the polymer’s chemical structure, they were able to increase membranes’ mechanical strength and greatly reduce its swelling in water. These materials showed excellent chemical stabilities in fuel cell devices, surpassing current industrial gold-standard materials.

Its significance – These findings are significant because the researchers successfully demonstrated the versatility and tunability of this class of materials, allowing them to achieve excellent chemical stabilities and fuel cell performances. Readily meeting these critical criteria and surpassing current industrial benchmarks suggests that as we approach global commercialization of fuel cell technologies, such fluorene-free (environmentally friendly) polymers may become a new technological standard. The work is important to researchers and developers in the field of proton exchange membrane fuel cell technologies, and their applications in the automotive industry and power generation.

Read the paper – “Highly Stable, Low Gas Crossover, Proton-Conducting Phenylated Polyphenylenes” by Adamski, M; Skalski, TJG; Britton, B; Peckham, TJ; Metzler, L; Holdcroft, S. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 56(31): 9058-9061 (2017). DOI: 10.1002/anie.201703916

Website article compiled by Jacqueline Watson with Theresa Kitos