Polyzwitterionic Hydrogels in Engines Based on the Antipolyelectrolyte Effect and Driven by the Salinity Gradient
In this paper, we propose and investigate an original approach to energy conversion based on polyzwitterionic hydrogels, which exhibit an antipolyelectrolyte effect that enables them to swell in salt water and shrink in water of a different (i.e., desalinated water) salinity. The swelling and shrinking processes run cyclically and can move a piston up or down reversibly, thus transforming the antipolyelectrolyte effect into a mechanical force based on the salinity gradient. This phenomenon makes polyzwitterionic hydrogels suitable for use in a smart, polymeric engine. We apply this approach to investigate energy recovery from a polysulfobetaine-based hydrogel. The cross-linking density, external load, particle size, and repeatability of energy recoverability of hydrogels are examined. The maximum energy recovery from 0.4 g of hydrogel in feed (calculated based on dry form) of 102 mJ/kg was obtained by a hydrogel with a 3% cross-linking density, a 200-300 ?m particle size, and 100 g external load. Excellent reproducibility of engine cycles was achieved over 10 cycles. This concept is complementary to the osmotic engine concept based on a polyelectrolyte hydrogel. In addition, polyzwitterionic materials have become a benchmark material for preventing biofouling, and the swelling properties of such materials can be further modulated and tuned. - 2019 American Chemical Society.