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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Subsurface Oxygen in Oxide-Derived Copper Electrocatalysts for Carbon Dioxide Reduction


Copper electrocatalysts derived from an oxide have shown extraordinary electrochemical properties for the carbon dioxide reduction reaction (CO2RR). Using in situ ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and quasi in situ electron energy-loss spectroscopy in a transmission electron microscope, we show that there is a substantial amount of residual oxygen in nanostructured, oxide-derived copper electrocatalysts but no residual copper oxide. On the basis of these findings in combination with density functional theory simulations, we propose that residual subsurface oxygen changes the electronic structure of the catalyst and creates sites with higher carbon monoxide binding energy. If such sites are stable under the strongly reducing conditions found in CO2RR, these findings would explain the high efficiencies of oxide-derived copper in reducing carbon dioxide to multicarbon compounds such as ethylene.

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