ConspectusIt is an exciting time for exploring the synergism between the chemical and dimensional properties of redox nanomaterials for addressing the manifold performance demands faced by energy storage technologies. The call for widespread adoption of alternative energy sources requires the combination of emerging chemical concepts with redesigned battery formats. Our groups are interested in the development and implementation of a new strategy for nonaqueous flow batteries (NRFBs) for grid energy storage. Our motivation is to solve major challenges in NRFBs, such as the lack of membranes that simultaneously allow fast ion transport while minimizing redox active species crossover between anolyte (negative electrolyte) and catholyte (positive electrolyte) compartments. This pervasive crossover leads to deleterious capacity fade and materials underutilization.In this Account, we highlight redox active polymers (RAPs) and related polymer colloids as soluble nanoscopic energy storing units that enable the simple but powerful size-exclusion concept for NRFBs. Crossover of the redox component is suppressed by matching high molecular weight RAPs with simple and inexpensive nanoporous commercial separators. In contrast to the vast literature on the redox chemistry of electrode-confined polymer films, studies on the electrochemistry of solubilized RAPs are incipient. This is due in part to challenges in finding suitable solvents that enable systematic studies on high polymers. Here, viologen-, ferrocene- and nitrostyrene-based polymers in various formats exhibit properties that make amenable their electrochemical exploration as solution-phase redox couples.A main finding is that RAP solutions store energy efficiently and reversibly while offering chemical modularity and size versatility. Beyond the practicality toward their use in NRFBs, the fundamental electrochemistry exhibited by RAPs is fascinating, showing clear distinctions in behavior from that of small molecules. Whereas RAPs conveniently translate the redox properties of small molecules into a nanostructure, they give rise to charge transfer mechanisms and electrolyte interactions that elicit distinct electrochemical responses. To understand how the electrochemical characteristics of RAPs depend on molecular features, including redox moiety, macromolecular size, and backbone structure, a range of techniques has been employed by our groups, including voltammetry at macro- and microelectrodes, rotating disk electrode voltammetry, bulk electrolysis, and scanning electrochemical microscopy. RAPs rely on three-dimensional charge transfer within their inner bulk, which is an efficient process and allows quantitative electrolysis of particles of up to ∼800 nm in radius. Interestingly, we find that interactions between neighboring pendants create unique opportunities for fine-tuning their electrochemical reactivity. Furthermore, RAP interrogation toward the single particle limit promises to shed light on fundamental charge storage mechanisms.
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