Density functional theory investigation of mechanisms of degradation reactions of sulfonated PEEK membranes with OH radicals in fuel cells: addition-elimination reactions and acid catalyzed water elimination

Theor Chem Acc. 2023;142(5):49. doi: 10.1007/s00214-023-02981-2. Epub 2023 Apr 25.


Sulfonated polyether (ether) ketone or sulfonated PEEK (sPEEK) membranes are one possible candidate for proton-transfer membranes in hydrogen fuel cells. Reaction with hydroxy radicals is expected to be a significant source of degradation of these membranes during fuel cell operation. In this work, the reactivity of the sPEEK polymer molecule with OH radicals is studied by M062X hybrid density functional calculations of the energetics of several reaction paths in a water environment as modeled by polarized continuum model calculations. Reactants, products, encounter minima and transition states are optimized for a reaction pathway in which OH addition is followed by acid-catalyzed water elimination which cationizes the polymer, degradation is expected to follow this reaction as the unstable cation then undergoes bond-breaking or other reactions. Two pathways for this acid-catalyzed cationization, one in which a water molecule plays the role of an additional co-catalyst, are reported. Further calculations explore reaction pathways in which addition of OH to the polymer is followed by bond breaking reactions which would break the polymer chain or the bond between the polymer and sulfonyl groups. Examination of the free energy barriers to all these reactions, relative to reactants, suggests that these direct bond-breaking reactions may compete somewhat with acid-catalyzed water elimination following OH addition.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s00214-023-02981-2.

PMID:37124478 | PMC:PMC10129967 | DOI:10.1007/s00214-023-02981-2


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