CO2 electrolysis to multicarbon products at activities greater than 1 A cm−2

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Science  07 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6478, pp. 661-666
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay4217

Graceful choreography for CO2 and H2O

One challenge for efficient electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) is that the gas is hydrophobic, but many of its desirable reactions require water (H2O). García de Arquer et al. addressed this problem by combining a copper electrocatalyst with an ionomer assembly that intersperses sulfonate-lined paths for the H2O with fluorocarbon channels for the CO2. The electrode architecture enables production of two-carbon products such as ethylene and ethanol at current densities just over an ampere per square centimeter.

Science, this issue p. 661


Electrolysis offers an attractive route to upgrade greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) to valuable fuels and feedstocks; however, productivity is often limited by gas diffusion through a liquid electrolyte to the surface of the catalyst. Here, we present a catalyst:ionomer bulk heterojunction (CIBH) architecture that decouples gas, ion, and electron transport. The CIBH comprises a metal and a superfine ionomer layer with hydrophobic and hydrophilic functionalities that extend gas and ion transport from tens of nanometers to the micrometer scale. By applying this design strategy, we achieved CO2 electroreduction on copper in 7 M potassium hydroxide electrolyte (pH ≈ 15) with an ethylene partial current density of 1.3 amperes per square centimeter at 45% cathodic energy efficiency.

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