A Solid-State NMR Study of Hydrogen-Bonding Networks and Ion Dynamics in Benzimidazole Salts
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On the basis of our solid-state NMR characterization of dynamics in two model salts, we draw the analogy to the fuel cell membrane candidate, phosphoric acid-doped poly(benzimidazole), and conclude that phosphate anion dynamics contribute to long-range proton transport, whereas the mobility of the polymer itself is not a contributing factor. This is contrasted with emerging membrane candidates, which rely on fully covalently bonded acid donors and acceptors, and target high-temperature PEM fuel cell operation in the absence of liquid electrolyte. The hydrogen-bonding structures of benzimidazolium phosphate and benzimidazolium methane phosphonate are established using X-ray diffraction paired with solid-state 1H DQF NMR. By comparing the dynamics of the phosphate and methane phosphonate anions with the dynamics of imidazolium and benzimidazolium cations, the relative importance of these processes in proton transport is determined. The imidazolium cation is known to undergo two-site ring reorientation on the millisecond time scale. In contrast, it is shown here that the benzimidazolium rings are immobile in analogous salts, on a time scale extending into the tens of seconds. Therefore, we look to the phosphate anions and demonstrate that the time scale of tetrahedral reorientation is comparably fast (50 ms). Moreover, the 31P CODEX NMR data clearly indicate a four-site jump process. In contrast, the methane phosphonate undergoes a three-site jump on a slower time scale (75 ms). A mechanism for a zigzag pathway of proton transport through the phosphonate salt crystallites is developed based on the 31P CODEX and 1H variable-temperature MAS NMR data.