Advanced Spatiotemporal Voltammetric Techniques for Kinetic Analysis and Active Site Determination in the Electrochemical Reduction of CO2

Si Xuan Guo, Cameron L. Bentley, Minkyung Kang, Alan M. Bond, Patrick R. Unwin, Jie Zhang

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20 Citations (Scopus)


ConspectusElectrochemical reduction of the greenhouse gas CO2 offers prospects for the sustainable generation of fuels and industrially useful chemicals when powered by renewable electricity. However, this electrochemical process requires the use of highly stable, selective, and active catalysts. The development of such catalysts should be based on a detailed kinetic and mechanistic understanding of the electrochemical CO2 reduction reaction (eCO2RR), ideally through the resolution of active catalytic sites in both time (i.e., temporally) and space (i.e., spatially). In this Account, we highlight two advanced spatiotemporal voltammetric techniques for electrocatalytic studies and describe the considerable insights they provide on the eCO2RR. First, Fourier transformed large-amplitude alternating current voltammetry (FT ac voltammetry), as applied by the Monash Electrochemistry Group, enables the resolution of rapid underlying electron-transfer processes in complex reactions, free from competing processes, such as the background double-layer charging current, slow catalytic reactions, and solvent/electrolyte electrolysis, which often mask conventional voltammetric measurements of the eCO2RR. Crucially, FT ac voltammetry allows details of the catalytically active sites or the rate-determining step to be revealed under catalytic turnover conditions. This is well illustrated in investigations of the eCO2RR catalyzed by Bi where formate is the main product. Second, developments in scanning electrochemical cell microscopy (SECCM) by the Warwick Electrochemistry and Interfaces Group provide powerful methods for obtaining high-resolution activity maps and potentiodynamic movies of the heterogeneous surface of a catalyst. For example, by coupling SECCM data with colocated microscopy from electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) or atomic force microscopy, it is possible to develop compelling correlations of (precatalyst) structure-activity at the nanoscale level. This correlative electrochemical multimicroscopy strategy allows the catalytically more active region of a catalyst, such as the edge plane of two-dimensional materials and the grain boundaries between facets in a polycrystalline metal, to be highlighted. The attributes of SECCM-EBSD are well-illustrated by detailed studies of the eCO2RR on polycrystalline gold, where carbon monoxide is the main product. Comparing SECCM maps and movies with EBSD images of the same region reveals unambiguously that the eCO2RR is enhanced at surface-terminating dislocations, which accumulate at grain boundaries and slip bands. Both FT ac voltammetry and SECCM techniques greatly enhance our understanding of the eCO2RR, significantly boosting the electrochemical toolbox and the information available for the development and testing of theoretical models and rational catalyst design. In the future, it may be possible to further enhance insights provided by both techniques through their integration with in situ and in operando spectroscopy and microscopy methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-251
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022

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