Electrocatalytic CO2 Conversion to Oxalate by a Copper Complex

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Science  15 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5963, pp. 313-315
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177981

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Oxalate from Air

In light of increasing concerns about the consequences of excessive atmospheric carbon dioxide, there is demand for methods to use carbon dioxide in the preparation of more elaborate compounds. Though reactions with hydroxide salts to form carbonates tend to proceed fairly cleanly, reductive processes to form carboxylic acids, esters, and alcohols are often rather unselective. Angamuthu et al. (p. 313; see the news story by Service) discovered that a copper complex exhibited remarkable selectivity in reductively coupling carbon dioxide to form oxalate through coordinative electron transfer, even in the presence of excess oxygen, normally a much more potent electron acceptor. Precipitation of the oxalate as a lithium salt and electrochemical re-reduction of the copper produced a preliminary catalytic cycle, demonstrated through six turnovers.


Global warming concern has dramatically increased interest in using CO2 as a feedstock for preparation of value-added compounds, thereby helping to reduce its atmospheric concentration. Here, we describe a dinuclear copper(I) complex that is oxidized in air by CO2 rather than O2; the product is a tetranuclear copper(II) complex containing two bridging CO2-derived oxalate groups. Treatment of the copper(II) oxalate complex in acetonitrile with a soluble lithium salt results in quantitative precipitation of lithium oxalate. The copper(II) complex can then be nearly quantitatively electrochemically reduced at a relatively accessible potential, regenerating the initial dinuclear copper(I) compound. Preliminary results demonstrate six turnovers (producing 12 equivalents of oxalate) during 7 hours of catalysis at an applied potential of –0.03 volts versus the normal hydrogen electrode.

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