Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Substrate Hydrophilicity and Confinement Effects in Capped Nafion Films

S Sengupta and AV Lyulin, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 122, 6107-6119 (2018).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.8b03257

Nafion nanocomposites for energy-related applications are being used extensively because of the attractive properties such as enhanced water retention, low unwanted crossover of electrolytes, and high proton conductivity. We present the results of the molecular dynamics modeling of Nafion films confined between two walls (substrates) of different polymer wall interaction strengths and of different separation distances to model Nafion nanocomposites. Our goal is to provide insights into the effects of varying hydrophilicity and volume fraction of fillers/nanoparticles on the internal structure and water transport inside the Nafion membrane. The sulfur sulfur radial distribution function first peak distance and the sulfur oxygen (water) coordination number in the first hydration shell were negligibly affected by the wall (substrate) hydrophilicity or the film thickness. The Nafion side chains were found to bend toward the substrates with high hydrophilicity which is in qualitative agreement with existing experiments. The amount of bending was observed to reduce with increasing film thickness. However, the side-chain length did not show any noticeable variation with wall (substrate) hydrophilicity or film thickness. The water clusters became smaller and more isolated clusters emerged for highly hydrophilic substrates. In addition, the water cluster sizes showed a decreasing trend with decreasing film thickness in the case of hydrophilic substrates, which has also been observed in experiments of supported Nafion films. The in-plane water diffusion was enhanced considerably for hydrophilic substrates, and this mechanism has also been proposed previously in experiments. The in-plane water diffusion was also found to be a strong function of the substrate selectivity toward the hydrophilic phase. Our simulations can help provide more insights to experimentalists for choosing or modifying nanoparticles for Nafion nanocomposites.

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