Stability and Placement of Ag/AgCl Quasi-Reference Counter Electrodes in Confined Electrochemical Cells

Cameron L. Bentley, David Perry, Patrick R. Unwin

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Nanoelectrochemistry is an important and growing branch of electrochemistry that encompasses a number of key research areas, including (electro)catalysis, energy storage, biomedical/environmental sensing, and electrochemical imaging. Nanoscale electrochemical measurements are often performed in confined environments over prolonged experimental time scales with nonisolated quasi-reference counter electrodes (QRCEs) in a simplified two-electrode format. Herein, we consider the stability of commonly used Ag/AgCl QRCEs, comprising an AgCl-coated wire, in a nanopipet configuration, which simulates the confined electrochemical cell arrangement commonly encountered in nanoelectrochemical systems. Ag/AgCl QRCEs possess a very stable reference potential even when used immediately after preparation and, when deployed in Cl- free electrolyte media (e.g., 0.1 M HClO4) in the scanning ion conductance microscopy (SICM) format, drift by only ca. 1 mV h-1 on the several hours time scale. Furthermore, contrary to some previous reports, when employed in a scanning electrochemical cell microscopy (SECCM) format (meniscus contact with a working electrode surface), Ag/AgCl QRCEs do not cause fouling of the surface (i.e., with soluble redox byproducts, such as Ag+) on at least the 6 h time scale, as long as suitable precautions with respect to electrode handling and placement within the nanopipet are observed. These experimental observations are validated through finite element method (FEM) simulations, which consider Ag+ transport within a nanopipet probe in the SECCM and SICM configurations. These results confirm that Ag/AgCl is a stable and robust QRCE in confined electrochemical environments, such as in nanopipets used in SICM, for nanopore measurements, for printing and patterning, and in SECCM, justifying the widespread use of this electrode in the field of nanoelectrochemistry and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7700-7707
Number of pages8
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes

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