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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Correlating Oxidation State and Surface Area to Activity from Operando Studies of Copper CO Electroreduction Catalysts in a Gas-Fed Device

  • Author(s): Lee, SH
  • Sullivan, I
  • Larson, DM
  • Liu, G
  • Toma, FM
  • Xiang, C
  • Drisdell, WS
  • et al.

The rational design of high-performance electrocatalysts requires a detailed understanding of dynamic changes in catalyst properties, including oxidation states, surface area, and morphology under realistic working conditions. Oxide-derived Cu catalysts exhibit a remarkable selectivity toward multicarbon products for the electrochemical CO reduction reaction (CORR), but the exact role of the oxide remains elusive for explaining the performance enhancements. Here, we used operando X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) coupled with simultaneous measurements of the catalyst activity and selectivity by gas chromatography (GC) to study the relationship between oxidation states of Cu-based catalysts and the activity for ethylene (C2H4) production in a CO gas-fed cell. By utilizing a custom-built XAS cell, oxidation states of Cu catalysts can be probed in device-relevant settings and under high current densities (>80 mA cm-2) for the CORR. By employing an electrochemical oxidation process, we found that the Cu oxidation states and specific ion species do not correlate with C2H4 production. The difference in the CORR activity is also investigated in relation to electrochemical surface area (ECSA) changes. While the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) activity is positively correlated to the ECSA changes, the increased C2H4 activity is not proportional to the ECSA. Ex situ characterization from microscopic techniques suggests that the changes in the C2H4 activity and selectivity may arise from a morphological transformation that evolves into a more active structure. These comprehensive results give rise to the development of a cell regeneration method that can restore the performance of the Cu catalyst without cell disassembly. Our study establishes a basis for the rational design of highly active electrocatalysts for broad-range reactions in a gas-fed device.

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