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CO2 reduction on pure Cu produces only H2 after subsurface O is depleted: Theory and experiment


We elucidate the role of subsurface oxygen on the production of C2 products from CO2 reduction over Cu electrocatalysts using the newly developed grand canonical potential kinetics density functional theory method, which predicts that the rate of C2 production on pure Cu with no O is ∼500 times slower than H2 evolution. In contrast, starting with Cu2O, the rate of C2 production is >5,000 times faster than pure Cu(111) and comparable to H2 production. To validate these predictions experimentally, we combined time-dependent product detection with multiple characterization techniques to show that ethylene production decreases substantially with time and that a sufficiently prolonged reaction time (up to 20 h) leads only to H2 evolution with ethylene production ∼1,000 times slower, in agreement with theory. This result shows that maintaining substantial subsurface oxygen is essential for long-term C2 production with Cu catalysts.

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