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Effects of Anion Identity and Concentration on Electrochemical Reduction of CO2


The electrochemical reduction of CO2 is known to be influenced by the concentration and identity of the anionic species in the electrolyte; however, a full understanding of this phenomenon has not been developed. Here, we present the results of experimental and computational studies aimed at understanding the role of electrolyte anions on the reduction of CO2 over Cu surfaces. Experimental studies were performed to show the effects of bicarbonate buffer concentration and the composition of other buffering anions on the partial currents of the major products formed by reduction of CO2 over Cu. It was demonstrated that the composition and concentration of electrolyte anions has relatively little effect on the formation of CO, HCOO−, C2H4, and CH3CH2OH, but has a significant effect on the formation of H2 and CH4. Continuum modeling was used to assess the effects of buffering anions on the pH at the electrode surface. The influence of pH on the activity of Cu for producing H2 and CH4 was also considered. Changes in the pH near the electrode surface were insufficient to explain the differences in activity and selectivity observed with changes in anion buffering capacity observed for the formation of H2 and CH4. Therefore, it is proposed that these differences are the result of the ability of buffering anions to donate hydrogen directly to the electrode surface and in competition with water. The effectiveness of buffering anions to serve as hydrogen donors is found to increase with decreasing pKa of the buffering anion.

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