Electrochemical CO2 Reduction on Nanostructured Metal Electrodes: Fact or Defect?

Electrochemical CO2 reduction has received an increased amount of interest in the last decade as a promising avenue for storing renewable electricity in chemical bonds. Despite considerable progress on catalyst performance using nanostructured electrodes, the sensitivity of the reaction to process conditions has led to debate on the origin of the activity and high selectivity. Additionally, this raises questions on the transferability of the performance and knowledge to other electrochemical systems. At its core, the discrepancy is primarily a result of the highly porous nature of nanostructured electrodes, which are vulnerable to both mass transport effects and structural changes during the electrolysis. Both effects are not straightforward to identify and difficult to decouple. Despite the susceptibility of nanostructured electrodes to mass transfer limitations, we highlight that nanostructured silver electrodes exhibit considerably higher activity when normalized to the electrochemically active surface in contrast to gold and copper electrodes. Alongside, we provide a discussion on how active surface area and thickness of the catalytic layer itself can influence the selectivity, stability, activity and mass transfer inside and outside of the three dimensional catalyst layer. Key parameters and potential solutions are highlighted to decouple mass transfer effects from the measured activity in electrochemical cells utilizing CO2 saturated aqueous solutions.