Reduced Ion Crossover in Bipolar Membrane Electrolysis via Increased Current Density, Molecular Size, and Valence

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A bipolar membrane (BPM) can be used to accelerate water dissociation to maintain a pH gradient in electrochemical cells, providing freedom to independently optimize the environments and catalysts used for paired reduction and oxidation reactions. The two physical layers in a BPM, respectively, selective for the exchange of cations and anions, should ideally reject ion crossover and facilitate ionic current via water dissociation in an interfacial layer. However, ions from the electrolyte do cross over in actual BPMs, competing with the water dissociation reaction and negatively affecting the stability of the electrolytes. Here, we explore the mechanisms of ion crossover as a function of pH and current density across a commercial BPM. Our unique series of experiments quantifies the ion crossover for more than 10 electrolyte combinations that cover 10 orders of magnitude in acid dissociation constant (Ka) and current densities spanning over more than 2 orders of magnitude. It was found that the ion crossover is dominated by diffusion for current densities up to a maximum of 10-40 mA cm-2 depending on the electrolyte, while migration is of higher importance at high current densities. The influence of the electrolyte pKa or pH on the ion crossover is not straightforward. However, ions with a higher valence or ion size show significantly lower crossover. Moreover, high current densities are the most favorable for high water dissociation efficiencies for all electrolyte combinations. This operational mode aligns well with practical applications of BPMs in electrolysis at industrial relevant current densities.