Interplay between Composition, Structure, and Properties of New H3PO4‑Doped PBI4N–HfO2 Nanocomposite Membranes for High-Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells

Polybenzimidazole (PBI) has become a popular polymer of choice for the preparation of membranes for potential use in high-temperature proton exchange membrane polymer fuel cells. Phosphoric acid-doped composite membranes of poly­[2,2′-(m-phenylene)-5,5′-bibenzimidazole] (PBI4N) impregnated with hafnium oxide nanofiller with varying content levels (0–18 wt %) have been prepared. The structure–property relationships of both the undoped and acid-doped composite membranes are studied using thermogravimetric analysis, modulated differential scanning calorimetry, dynamic mechanical analysis, wide-angle X-ray scattering, infrared spectroscopy, and broadband electrical spectroscopy. Results indicate that the presence of nanofiller improves the thermal and mechanical properties of the undoped membranes and facilitates a greater level of acid uptake. The degree of acid dissociation within the acid-doped membranes is found to increase with increasing nanofiller content. This results in a conductivity, at 215 °C and a nanofiller level x ≥ 0.04, of 9.0 × 10–2 S cm–1 for [PBI4N­(HfO2)x]­(H3PO4)y. This renders nanocomposite membranes of this type as good candidates for use in high temperature proton exchange membrane fuel cells (HT-PEMFCs).