Among various components commonly used in redox flow batteries (RFBs), the separator plays a significant role, influencing resistance to current as well as capacity decay via unintended crossover. It is well-established that the ohmic overpotential is dominated by the membrane and interfacial resistance in most aqueous RFBs. The ultimate goal of engineering membranes is to improve the ionic conductivity while keeping crossover at a minimum. One of the major issues yet to be addressed is the contribution of interfacial phenomena in the influence of ionic and water transport through the membrane. In this work, we have utilized a novel experimental system capable of measuring the ionic crossover in real-time to quantify the permeability of ionic species. Specifically, we have focused on quantifying the contributions from the interfacial resistance to ionic crossover. The trade-off between the mass and ionic transport impedance caused by the interface of the membranes has been addressed. The MacMullin number has been quantified for a series of electrolyte configurations and a correlation between the ionic conductivity of the contacting electrolyte and the Nafion®
membrane has been established. The performance of individual ion-exchange membranes along with a stack of various separators have been explored. We have found that utilizing a stack of membranes is significantly beneficial in reducing the electroactive species crossover in redox flow batteries compared to a single membrane of the same fold thickness. For example, we have demonstrated that the utilization of five layers of Nafion®
211 membrane reduces the crossover by 37% while only increasing the area-specific resistance (ASR) by 15% compared to a single layer Nafion®
115 membrane. Therefore, the influence of interfacial impedance in reducing the vanadium ion crossover is substantially higher compared to a corresponding increase in ASR, indicating that mass and ohmic interfacial resistances are dissimilar. We have expanded our analysis to a combination of commercially available ion-exchange membranes and provided a design chart for membrane selection based on the application of interest (short duration/high-performance vs. long-term durability). The results of this study provide a deeper insight into the optimization of all-vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs).
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