As global anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise, there is a need not only to reduce production of CO2, but also an opportunity to use it as a substrate for value-added products. One viable solution is to reduce CO2 in the two proton, two electron coupled process to produce carbon monoxide (CO), which can in turn be utilized to recreate hydrocarbon fuels. One of the most active and selective molecular electrocatalysts for the reduction of CO2 to CO is Re(2,2′-bipyridine)(CO)3Cl (Re-bpy) and derivatives thereof. The best method to study electrocatalysts is cyclic voltammetry (CV), which affords both kinetic and thermodynamic information about catalysis. CV is the main technique used to characterize substituent, labile ligand, and Brønsted acid effects on Re-bpy based catalysts, which show increased activity with electron donating 4,4′-substituents and moderate Brønsted acids such as 2,2,2-trifluoroethanol and phenol. The Re-bpy catalyst motif is also extended to Group 6 Mo and W metals, which are not as active as their Group 7 counterparts due to high overpotentials and product poisoning of the catalyst.
To build a fundamental understanding of how molecular catalysts interact with surfaces, Re-bpy derivatives were bound to Au substrates and studied by sum frequency generation spectroscopy (SFG). While cyano substituents deactivated the molecular catalyst, they adsorbed onto Au surfaces, allowing for determination of molecular orientation on the surface as well as characterization of surface-molecule vibratinal communication. Thiol groups were subsequently employed on the bpy ligand for both Re and Mn catalysts to create a covalent attachment to Au surfaces. These groups did not deactivate the molecular catalysts and reproducibly create monolayers on Au surfaces. Further studies are needed in order to fully understand the implications of surface bound Re-bpy based catalysis as well as apply the design principles learned from Re-bpy systems to future molecular electrocatalysts.