Elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in Earth’s atmosphere, resulting from mankind’s combustion of fossil fuels, are destabilizing the global climate. Our research goal is to develop methods of transforming CO2 emissions into valuable chemicals and fuels, thereby using this waste gas as feedstock for chemical industry while averting its release into the atmosphere. By combining just three ingredients – CO2, water, and renewable electricity – we can drive the electrochemical conversion of CO2 into valuable organic molecules. Advancing this technology demands that we develop a better understanding of the catalytic mechanisms involved and use that knowledge to design more efficient catalysts.
Structure–activity relationships for bi-metallic catalysts
Our goal is to electrochemically convert CO2 to highly-reduced, valuable organic products (alkanes, alkenes, alcohols) in a single process. Individual metal catalysts suffer from binding energy scaling, which impart thermodynamic barriers and result in low efficiency and poor yield of the desired products. We will examine the ability of multi-metal catalysts to enable different binding modes and reaction mechanisms which favor the production of highly-reduced products.
Targeting kinetic limitations via advanced cell design
The low solubility of CO2 in water limits conventional systems to low current densities. For the technology to be industrially viable, much higher rates of CO2 transport are necessary, and this can be achieved by using gas diffusion cells. Our research efforts involve synthesis of robust membrane–electrode assemblies suited for electrochemical CO2 reduction, and design of cells capable of efficient product collection.
Mechanism study using operando spectroscopy
Improved understanding of electrochemical mechanisms is needed to enable design of better catalysts. We are developing methods for spectroscopic analysis of catalysts under real operation conditions. This includes design of an electrochemical cell for X-ray emission/absorption and photoelectron spectroscopy.