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Effects of surface diffusion in electrocatalytic CO2 reduction on Cu revealed by kinetic Monte Carlo simulations.

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Kinetic Monte Carlo (KMC) methods are frequently used for mechanistic studies of thermally driven heterogeneous catalysis systems but are underused for electrocatalysis. Here, we develop a lattice KMC approach for electrocatalytic CO2 reduction. The work is motivated by a prior experimental report that performed electroreduction of a mixed feed of 12CO2 and 13CO on Cu; differences in the 13C content of C2 products ethylene and ethanol (Δ13C) were interpreted as evidence of site selectivity. The lattice KMC model considers the effect of surface diffusion on this system. In the limit of infinitely fast diffusion (mean-field approximation), the key intermediates 12CO* and 13CO* would be well mixed on the surface and no evidence of site selectivity could have been observed. Using a simple two-site model and adapting a previously reported microkinetic model, we assess the effects of diffusion on the relative isotope fractions in the products using the estimated surface diffusion rate of CO* from literature reports. We find that the size of the active sites and the total surface adsorbate coverage can have a large influence on the values of Δ13C that can be observed. Δ13C is less sensitive to the CO* diffusion rate as long as it is within the estimated range. We further offer possible methods to estimate surface distribution of intermediates and to predict intrinsic selectivity of active sites based on experimental observations. This work illustrates the importance of considering surface diffusion in the study of electrochemical CO2 reduction to multi-carbon products. Our approach is entirely based on a freely available open-source code, so will be readily adaptable to other electrocatalytic systems.

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