Novel proton exchange membranes (PEMs) with functionally gradient ionic sites were fabricated utilizing low energy electron beam (EB) irradiations. The low energy electron beam irradiation to polymer membranes possessed the property of gradient energy deposition in the membrane thickness direction. In the process of EB grafting of styrene onto base films, selective ranges of the gradient energy deposition were used. Micro FT-IR spectra showed that the simulated energy deposition of EB irradiation to base polymer membranes in the thickness direction corresponded to the amount of styrene grafted onto EB-irradiated films. After sulfonation, a functionally gradient ionic site PEM (gradient-PEM) was prepared, corresponding to EB depth-dose profile. The functionally gradients of ionic sites in the gradient-PEM and flat-PEM were evaluated with XPS and SEM-EDX. The results of XPS and SEM-EDX suggest that the prepared gradient-PEM had a gradient sulfonated acid groups. In addition, the polarization performance of MEA based on gradient-PEM was improved in high current density. It was thought that water uptake gradient could have a function to prevent flooding in the MEA during FC operation. Thus, the functionally gradient-PEMs could be a promising solution to manage the water behavior in MEA.
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