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).

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2022197118

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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