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Nanoscale Stabilization Mechanism of Sodium Sulfate Decahydrate at Polyelectrolyte Interfaces

Publication Type
Journal Name
ACS Omega
Publication Date
Page Numbers
1 to 11

Sodium sulfate decahydrate (SSD) is a low-cost phase-change material (PCM) for thermal energy storage applications that offers substantial melting enthalpy and a suitable temperature range for near-ambient applications. However, SSD’s consistent phase separation with decreased melting enthalpy over repeated thermal cycles limits its application as a PCM. Sulfonated polyelectrolytes, such as dextran sulfate sodium (DSS), have shown great effectiveness in preventing phase separation in SSD. However, there is limited understanding of the stabilization mechanism of SSD by DSS at the atomic length and time scales. In this work, we investigate SSD stabilization via DSS using neutron scattering and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Neutron scattering and pair distribution function analysis revealed the structural evolution of the PCM samples below and above the phase change temperatures. MD simulations revealed that water from the hydrate structure migrates from the hydrate crystal to the SSD–DSS interfacial region upon melting. The water is stabilized at this interface by aggregation around the hydrophilic sulfonic acid groups attached to the backbone of the polyelectrolyte. This architecture retains water near the dehydrated sodium sulfate, preventing phase separation and, consequently, stabilizing SSD rehydration. This work provides atomistic insight into selecting and designing stable and high-performance PCMs for heating and cooling applications in building technologies.