Molecular Modeling of Structure and Dynamics of Nafion Protonation States.J Phys Chem B. 2019 08 08; 123(31):6882-6891.JP
We present the results of the atomistic molecular dynamics modeling of different protonation states of Nafion at varying hydration levels. Previous experiments have shown that the degree of deprotonation (DDP) of the sulfonic acid groups in a Nafion membrane varies significantly upon hydration. Our goal is to provide insights into the effects of variable protonation states and water content on the internal structure and vehicular transport inside the Nafion membrane. The Nafion side chain lengths showed a weak increasing trend with increasing DDP at all hydration levels, exposing more of the sulfonic acid groups to the hydrophilic/water phase. The water-phase characteristic size/diameter decreased with increasing DDP, but, interestingly, the average number of water molecules per cluster increased. The probability of water-hydronium hydrogen bond formation decreased with increasing DDP, despite an increase in the total number of such hydrogen bonds. The water diffusion was largely unaffected by the state of deprotonation. In contrast to that, the hydronium ion diffusion slowed down with increasing DDP in the overall membrane. The hydronium ion residence times around the sulfonic acid group increased with increasing DDP. Our simulations show a strong connection between the morphology of the water domains and protonation states of Nafion. Such a connection can also be expected in polyelectrolyte membranes similar to Nafion.