Date of this Version
Cell Reports Physical Science 4, 101282, February 15, 2023
Sub-micrometer-thick ion-conducting polymer (ionomer) layers often suffer from poor ionic conductivity at the substrate/catalyst interface. The weak proton conductivity makes the electrochemical reaction at the cathode of proton-exchange-membrane fuel cells sluggish. To address this, here we report on a class of polystyrene-based ionomers having sub-nanometer-sized, sulfonated macrocyclic calixarene-based pendants (PS-calix). In films with thickness comparable to that of ionomer-based binder layers, the conductivity of PS-calix film (∼41 mS/cm) is ∼13 times higher than that of the current state-of-the-art ionomer, Nafion. We observe a similar improvement in proton conductivity when PS-calix interfaces with Pt nanoparticles, demonstrating the potential of PS-calix in catalyst ink. Leveraging a favorable interfacial chemical composition, PS-calix enhances proton conduction at the film-substrate interface, a shortcoming of Nafion. Moreover, the water in PS-calix films diffuses faster than bulk water and the water confined in Nafion films, suggesting an important role played by sub-nanometer-sized calixarene cavities in creating unique water/ion transport pathways.