Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Chemical Engineering


Roberts, Mark E.

Committee Member

Guiseppi-Elie, Anthony

Committee Member

Luzinov, Igor

Committee Member

Sarupria, Sapna


Electrochemical double layer capacitors (EDLCs), supercapacitors and Li-ion batteries have emerged as premier candidates to meet the rising demands in energy storage; however, such systems are limited by thermal hazards, thermal runaway, fires and explosions, all of which become increasingly more dangerous in large-format devices. To prevent such scenarios, thermally-responsive polymer electrolytes (RPEs) that alter properties in electrochemical energy storage devices were designed and tested. These RPEs will be used to limit or halt device operation when temperatures increase beyond a predetermined threshold, therefore limiting further heating. The development of these responsive systems will offer an inherent safety mechanism in electrochemical energy storage devices, while preserving the performance, lifetimes, and versatility that large-format systems require. Initial work focused on the development of a model system that demonstrated the concept of RPEs in an electrochemical device. Aqueous electrolyte solutions of polymers exhibiting properties that change in response to temperature were developed for applications in EDLCs and supercapacitors. These 'smart materials' provide a means to control electrochemical systems where polymer phase separation at high temperatures affects electrolyte properties and inhibits device performance. Aqueous RPEs were synthesized using N-isopropylacrylamide, which governs the thermal properties, and fractions of acrylic acid or vinyl sulfonic acids, which provide ions to the solution. The molecular properties of these aqueous RPEs, specifically the ionic composition, were shown to influence the temperature-dependent electrolyte properties and the extent to which these electrolytes control the energy storage characteristics of a supercapacitor device. Materials with high ionic content provided the highest room temperature conductivity and electrochemical activity; however, RPEs with low ionic content provided the highest 'on-off' ratio in electrochemical activity at elevated temperatures. Overall, solution pH and conductivity were altered by an order of magnitude and device performance (ability to store charge) decreased by over 70%. After demonstration of a model responsive electrolyte in an aqueous system, ionic liquid (IL) based electrolytes were developed as a means of controlling the electrochemical performance in the non-aqueous environments that batteries, specifically Li-ion, require. Here, two systems were developed: (1) an electrolyte comprising poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO), the IL, [EMIM][BF4], and a lithium salt and (2) an electrolyte comprising poly(benzyl methacrylate) (PBzMA), the IL, [EMIM][TFSI], and a lithium salt. In each system, the polymer-IL phase separation inhibited device operation at elevated temperatures. For the PEO/IL electrolyte, the thermally induced liquid-liquid phase separation was shown to decrease the ionic conductivity, thereby affecting the concentration of ions at the electrode. Additionally, an increasing charge transfer resistance associated with the phase separated polymer coating the porous electrode was shown to limit electrochemical activity significantly. For the PBzMA/IL electrolyte, the solid-liquid phase separation did not show a change in conductivity, but did cause a drastic increase in charge transfer resistance, effectively shutting off Li-ion battery operation at high temperatures. Such responsive mixtures provide a transformative approach to regulating electrochemical processes, which is necessary to achieve inherently safe operation in large format energy storage with EDLCs, supercapacitors and Li-ion batteries.