Bipolar Membranes Review Appears in First Issue of Nature Chemical Engineering

January 22, 2024

For decades, the food industry has used bipolar membranes for goals ranging from isolating proteins to preserving the color of apple juice. Now these specialized materials are at the scientific forefront of advanced energy conversion and storage and carbon capture, among other uses.

A newly published review led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) explores bipolar membranes' known properties and potential. Their work appears in the inaugural issue of Nature Chemical Engineering, a monthly online journal that debuted this month.

As the name suggests, bipolar membranes are composed of two layers of ion-conduction polymers (ionomers): a positive side and a negative side. Depending on their composition, they have the ability to control or sustain certain chemical environments. Though bipolar membranes have been around since the 1950s, the authors note, "there has been a renaissance over the past decade due to improvements in ionomers, the advent of low-cost renewable electricity, and growing recognition of value in controlling local reaction environments for selectivity, efficiency, and cost."

The researchers provide an extensive look at the current challenges and opportunities for bipolar membranes, which may be able to bolster durability and performance in batteries, fuel cells, electrolyzers, and CO2 capture. Authors are Justin Bui, Eric Lees, T. Nathan Stovall, Ahmet Kusoglu, Alexis Bell, Adam Weber of Berkeley Lab; Shannon Boettcher from the University of Oregon, who recently joined Berkeley Lab's Energy Storage and Distributed Resources as division deputy; Daniela Marin of Stanford University; Lihaokun Chen from the University of Oregon; and Adam Nielander and Thomas Jaramillo of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.