Tenacious Mass Transfer Limitations Drive Catalytic Selectivity during Electrochemical Carbon Dioxide Reduction

26 February 2019, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


This study evaluated the performance of the commonly used strong buffer electrolytes, i.e. phosphate buffers, during CO2 electroreduction in neutral pH conditions by using in-situ surface enhanced infrared absorption spectroscopy (SEIRAS). Unfortunately, the buffers break down a lot faster than anticipated which has serious implications on many studies in the literature such as selectivity and kinetic analysis of the electrocatalysts. Increasing electrolyte concentration, surprisingly, did not extend the potential window of the phosphate buffers due to dramatic increase in hydrogen evolution reaction. Even high concentration phosphate buffers (1 M) break down within the potentials (-1 V vs RHE) where hydrocarbons are formed on copper electrodes. We have extended the discussion to high surface area electrodes by evaluating electrodes composed of copper nanowires. We would like highlight that it is not possible to cope with high local current densities on these high surface area electrodes by using high buffer capacity solutions and the CO2 electrocatalysts are needed to be evaluated by casting thin nanoparticle films onto inert substrates as commonly employed in fuel cell reactions and up to now scarcely employed in CO2 electroreduction. In addition, we underscore that normalization of the electrocatalytic activity to the electrochemical active surface area is not the ultimate solution due to concentration gradient along the catalyst layer.This will “underestimate” the activity of high surface electrocatalyst and the degree of underestimation will depend on the thickness, porosity and morphology of the catalyst layer.


Surface enhanced infrared absorption spectroscopy
Electrochemical CO2 reduction
Transport Phenomena
CO2 reduction reaction
concentration overpotential losses
catalyst selectivity


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