(376b) Plant Cell Wall Inspired Nanoscale Materials for Renewable Energy Applications

Dishari, S. K., University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Nature has always been a source of inspiration and knowledge for researchers to gain insight into material properties at nanoscale and design next generation materials. Many naturally abundant molecules have the potential to be converted to valuable products. Such materials can be environment friendly and cheaper alternatives of artificially synthesized molecule based systems. Current initiatives to reduce the impact of global warming and climate changes demand best utilization of renewable energy sources. If, in addition to using renewable energy, we can use renewable polymers to design efficient and durable ion transporting materials for energy conversion systems, it will protect the environment. However, the natural materials have to be highly functional, durable and cheap so that they can compete with artificially synthesized, relatively expensive materials. The current work takes inspiration from plant cell walls and utilizes the major polymers (Cellulose, Lignin) present in plant cell walls to design ion conducting materials that can be used for renewable energy propelled applications, such as water electrolysis cells, fuel cells and supercapacitors. These applications require nanoscale thick materials at the electrode interface for efficient ion conduction and redox reactions to occur at the electrodes. The current work focuses on exploring how cellulose and lignin based ionomers behave under varied confined environments in several hundreds of nm thick films. The ion conduction and optical properties are measured to explore local hydration environment and find the correlation among hydration level, film composition and ion transport properties in such nanoscale materials using fluorescent dyes. These structure-property relationships will be a key to optimize the ion conductivity and mechanical strength. By understanding such complex bioinspired systems, we can gradually move towards presenting a natural, green alternative of synthetic ion conducting polymers for renewable energy applications.