Ion exchange membranes (IEMs) have consolidated applications in energy conversion and storage systems, like fuel cells and battery separators. Moreover, in the perspective to address the global need for non-carbon-based and renewable energies, salinity-gradient power (SGP) harvesting by reverse electrodialysis (RED) is attracting significant interest in recent years. In particular, brine solutions produced in desalination plants can be used as concentrated streams in a SGP-RED stack, providing a smart solution to the problem of brine disposal. Although Nafion is probably the most prominent commercial cation exchange membrane for electrochemical applications, no study has investigated yet its potential in RED. In this work, Nafion 117 and Nafion 115 membranes were tested for NaCl and NaCl + MgCl2 solutions, in order to measure the gross power density extracted under high salinity gradient and to evaluate the effect of Mg2+ (the most abundant divalent cation in natural feeds) on the efficiency in energy conversion. Moreover, performance of commercial CMX (Neosepta) and Fuji-CEM 80050 (Fujifilm) cation exchange membranes, already widely applied for RED applications, were used as a benchmark for Nafion membranes. In addition, complementary characterization (i.e., electrochemical impedance and membrane potential test) was carried out on the membranes with the aim to evaluate the predominance of electrochemical properties in different aqueous solutions. In all tests, Nafion 117 exhibited superior performance when 0.5/4.0 M NaCl fed through 500 µm-thick compartments at a linear velocity 1.5 cm·s−1 . However, the gross power density of 1.38 W·m−2 detected in the case of pure NaCl solutions decreased to 1.08 W·m−2 in the presence of magnesium chloride. In particular, the presence of magnesium resulted in a drastic effect on the electrochemical properties of Fuji-CEM-80050, while the impact on other membranes investigated was less severe.
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