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J Am Chem Soc. 2017 Aug 16;139(32):11277-11287. doi: 10.1021/jacs.7b06765. Epub 2017 Aug 3.

Promoter Effects of Alkali Metal Cations on the Electrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, University of California , Berkeley, California 94720, United States.
Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, Material Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory , Berkeley, California 94720, United States.
SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University , Stanford, California 94305, United States.
SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory , Menlo Park, California 94025, United States.


The electrochemical reduction of CO2 is known to be influenced by the identity of the alkali metal cation in the electrolyte; however, a satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon has not been developed. Here we present the results of experimental and theoretical studies aimed at elucidating the effects of electrolyte cation size on the intrinsic activity and selectivity of metal catalysts for the reduction of CO2. Experiments were conducted under conditions where the influence of electrolyte polarization is minimal in order to show that cation size affects the intrinsic rates of formation of certain reaction products, most notably for HCOO-, C2H4, and C2H5OH over Cu(100)- and Cu(111)-oriented thin films, and for CO and HCOO- over polycrystalline Ag and Sn. Interpretation of the findings for CO2 reduction was informed by studies of the reduction of glyoxal and CO, key intermediates along the reaction pathway to final products. Density functional theory calculations show that the alkali metal cations influence the distribution of products formed as a consequence of electrostatic interactions between solvated cations present at the outer Helmholtz plane and adsorbed species having large dipole moments. The observed trends in activity with cation size are attributed to an increase in the concentration of cations at the outer Helmholtz plane with increasing cation size.

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