Engineering Li/Na selectivity in 12-Crown-4-functionalized polymer membranes
SJ Warnock and R Sujanani and ES Zofchak and S Zhao and TJ Dilenschneider and KG Hanson and S Mukherjee and V Ganesan and BD Freeman and MM Abu-Omar and CM Bates, PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 118, e2022197118 (2021).
Lithium is widely used in contemporary energy applications, but its isolation from natural reserves is plagued by time-consuming and costly processes. While polymer membranes could, in principle, circumvent these challenges by efficiently extracting lithium from aqueous solutions, they usually exhibit poor ion-specific selectivity. Toward this end, we have incorporated host-guest interactions into a tunable polynorbornene network by copolymerizing 1) 12-crown-4 ligands to impart ion selectivity, 2) poly(ethylene oxide) side chains to control water content, and 3) a crosslinker to form robust solids at room temperature. Single salt transport measurements indicate these materials exhibit unprecedented reverse permeability selectivity (similar to 2.3) for LiCl over NaCl-the highest documented to date for a dense, water-swollen polymer. As demonstrated by molecular dynamics simulations, this behavior originates from the ability of 12-crown-4 to bind Na+ ions more strongly than Li+ in an aqueous environment, which reduces Na+ mobility (relative to Li+) and offsets the increase in Na+ solubility due to binding with crown ethers. Under mixed salt conditions, 12-crown-4 functionalized membranes showed identical solubility selectivity relative to single salt conditions; however, the permeability and diffusivity selectivity of LiCl over NaCl decreased, presumably due to flux coupling. These results reveal insights for designing advanced membranes with solute-specific selectivity by utilizing host-guest interactions.
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