CO2 electroreduction to ethylene via hydroxide-mediated copper catalysis at an abrupt interface

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Science  18 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6390, pp. 783-787
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9100

A very basic pathway from CO2 to ethylene

Ethylene is an important commodity chemical for plastics. It is considered a tractable target for synthesizing renewably from carbon dioxide (CO2). The challenge is that the performance of the copper electrocatalysts used for this conversion under the required basic reaction conditions suffers from the competing reaction of CO2 with the base to form bicarbonate. Dinh et al. designed an electrode that tolerates the base by optimizing CO2 diffusion to the catalytic sites (see the Perspective by Ager and Lapkin). This catalyst design delivers 70% efficiency for 150 hours.

Science, this issue p. 783; see also p. 707


Carbon dioxide (CO2) electroreduction could provide a useful source of ethylene, but low conversion efficiency, low production rates, and low catalyst stability limit current systems. Here we report that a copper electrocatalyst at an abrupt reaction interface in an alkaline electrolyte reduces CO2 to ethylene with 70% faradaic efficiency at a potential of −0.55 volts versus a reversible hydrogen electrode (RHE). Hydroxide ions on or near the copper surface lower the CO2 reduction and carbon monoxide (CO)–CO coupling activation energy barriers; as a result, onset of ethylene evolution at −0.165 volts versus an RHE in 10 molar potassium hydroxide occurs almost simultaneously with CO production. Operational stability was enhanced via the introduction of a polymer-based gas diffusion layer that sandwiches the reaction interface between separate hydrophobic and conductive supports, providing constant ethylene selectivity for an initial 150 operating hours.

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