Revealing Mesoscale Ionomer Membrane Structure by Tender Resonant X-ray Scattering

Publication Type

Journal Article




Nafion, a perfluorosulfonic acid ionomer, has been well-studied for decades due to its key role as an ion-conductive membrane in electrochemical energy conversion and storage applications. When hydrated, this membrane phase separates into a complex hierarchical nanostructure with hydrophilic domains that facilitate ion transport. Hard X-ray scattering has been a powerful technique in understanding Nafion due to its capabilities in capturing the ionomer’s nanophase separated structure, which gives rise to contrast between polymer and water domains. More recently, resonant X-ray scattering, which tunes to elemental absorption edges to provide specificity on constituent elements, has been explored to highlight key interactions related to the sulfonic acid groups within its structure. Here, we study the Nafion nanostructure by combining hard X-ray scattering and tender resonant X-ray scattering (TReXS) at the sulfur K-edge to reveal a mesoscopic feature corresponding to a correlation length of approximately 40 nm that has been challenging to resolve with hard X-ray studies. Additionally, we study the effect of the dispersion solvent composition that plays a key role in the formation of this mesoscale feature. Notably, TReXS can attain high contrast to decipher this mesoscale morphology even for dry polymer membranes under a vacuum, which typically have reduced contrast for hard X-rays. We find that the correlation length of this mesoscale feature decreases with increasing water fraction in the dispersion, which is the opposite trend exhibited by the smaller intercrystalline feature in the same membranes. This study showcases the utility of TReXS to uncover multiscale morphological details in functional polymers that are not always revealed by other methods like hard X-ray scattering. We illustrate this with Nafion, which is a relevant ion-conducting polymer for electrochemical technologies.


ACS Applied Polymer Materials

Year of Publication






Research Areas

Related Files