Post-transition metal/polymer composites for the separation and sensing of alkali metal ions

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Journal Article
Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 2021, 9, (35), pp. 19854-19864
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The separation and sensing of alkali metal ions from aqueous lithium resources is of great importance for building future renewable and lithium-based energy storage technologies. As such, interest arises for the development of functional composites selective to ionic lithium (Li+) over sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) that allows for a range of low carbon-footprint sensing and recovery processes. Here, selective separation of Li+from aqueous mixtures of Na+and K+ions using polyvinyl alcohol/maleic acid composites was enhanced by the inclusion as nano-additives of post-transition metals gallium (Ga) and indium (In), together with their alloys and oxidized species, in the composite casting process. The co-addition of Ga and In resulted in the spontaneous formation of Ga oxides and hydroxides while In remained in the metallic state. This Ga-In composite was stable in aqueous solutions containing a high concentration (0.1 M) of mixed alkali metal ions over 5 days and achieved exceptionally high selectivities of Li+over Na+(3.8 ± 0.1) and K+(7.1 ± 0.1). Results from an electrochemical sensing platform technique revealed that Li+selectivity was in the same order as the diffusion rates. This work demonstrated that the low-melting-point post-transition metal alloy enables a one-step low energy fabrication of selective polymeric composites with diverse applications for energy, sensing and separation industries. The work has implications for the efficient manufacture of renewable and lithium-based energy storage technologies.
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