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Biology-inspired membrane enhances Li ion selectivity over Na

Paper Title:

Engineering Li/Na selectivity in 12-Crown-4–functionalized polymer membranes

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Abstract

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 (∼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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