Effect of alkyl branches on the thermal stability of quaternary ammonium cations in organic electrolytes for electrochemical double layer capacitors

YN Ahn and SH Lee and GS Lee and H Kim, PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 19, 19959-19966 (2017).

DOI: 10.1039/c7cp03209a

Quaternary ammoniums are cations having widespread use in organic electrolytes for high performance electrochemical double layer capacitors (EDLCs) due to their various advantages such as high electrochemical stability and inexpensive production cost. However, the decomposition of quaternary ammoniums via Hofmann elimination hinders their applications for EDLCs operating at elevated temperatures. This study systematically investigates the reactivity of four different quaternary ammoniums (tetraethyl-, triethylmethyl-, diethyldimethyl-, and trimethylethyl-ammonium) in EDLC by utilizing density functional theory calculations and Brownian dynamics simulations complemented with molecular dynamics simulations. It is found that ammonium stability reduces upon increasing the number of ethyl branches that have a stronger positive charge than the methyl groups. However, the contribution of the entropy change to the reaction free energy makes trimethylethylammonium less stable than diethyldimethylammonium at room temperature although the former has less ethyl branches than the latter. Trimethylethylammonium becomes the most stable at a high temperature of 488 K above which the activation free energy becomes effectively negligible and thus the number of reactive sites determines the overall stability. The fundamental understanding of the ammonium decompositions through Hofmann elimination demonstrated in this study is expected to contribute to developing new long-life organic electrolyte systems for high-temperature applications.

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