Martí-Franquès COFUND Fellowship Programme


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Engineering and Architecture

Supervisor name and surname:

Marta Giamberini

Supervisor email:

Supervisor short biography

PhD programme:

Nanoscience, Materials and Chemical Engineering

Title of the research project:

Proton Transport membranes based on novel polymeric columnar materials

Description of the research project:

Recently, there has been a growing interest toward the "hydrogen economy", that is a system where hydrogen is in charge of energy delivery and acts as an energy carrier and not as a primary energy source. This could be a solution to the huge energy problems caused by disappearance of fossil fuels. On the other hand, hydrogen needs to be produced by an energy consuming method, stored and finally used as fuel in a fuel cell to deliver electric energy when needed.
Concerning hydrogen production, the idea of using solar energy to perform water splitting, is currently under development. This process can be combined with the reduction of carbon dioxide to carbohydrates, and is generally referred to as "artificial photosynthesis". Fuel cells are an electrochemical device that converts chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Among them, proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) work at relatively low temperature, have high power density, can vary their output quickly to meet shifts in power demand and are suitable for automobile applications. The devices that involve either the use of hydrogen or fuels like methanol as energy sources, include a proton-exchange membrane (PEM). PEMs have different functions like: charge carrier for protons, separation of the two compartments and electronic insulator. The efficiency of PEMs depends mainly on their ability of rapid and selective transfer of proton ions; therefore, their study is essential for further development of green technologies. The membranes currently used as PEM are far away to be considered optima with regard to their performance; therefore, the development of new PEMs is a topic of permanent interest. In this project we tackle this problem by preparing membranes based on self-assembling columnar polymers which lead to the formation of biomimetic ionic channels. These channels contain basic atoms (oxygen or nitrogen) to interact with protons, thus allowing their transport across the membrane. We have already reported on the preparation of several polyethers and polyamines modified with a dendritic group which forces the copolymer to adopt a columnar structure: the main chain forms a channel in the inner part, while the hydrophobic dendrons lie in the outer part. These copolymers were used as non-ionomeric electrolyte membranes. and showed cation permselective nature in all cases.
This project includes the synthesis and characterization of columnar polymers as well as the preparation and assessment of PEMs based on these materials. As far as they are concerned, the main drawback lies in the poor contact between the membrane and the electrode/catalyst layers, as evidenced by their use in a real device. A promising way to solve this problem seems to consist of sandwiching the membrane between two conducting layers, which should be fuel and water insoluble and should prevent leakage. Therefore, the project will also include the optimization and testing of MEAs based on the new membranes.

Gross anual salary:

26443.80 €


Full time

Working hours:

37.5 hours a week

Expected start date:

European union This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 713679