Unraveling the reaction mechanisms for furfural electroreduction on copper

13 January 2023, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Electrochemical routes for the valorization of biomass-derived feedstock molecules offer sustainable pathways to produce chemicals and fuels. However, the underlying reaction mechanisms for their electrochemical conversion remain elusive. In particular, the exact role of proton-electron coupled transfer and electrocatalytic hydrogenation in the reaction mechanisms for biomass electroreduction are disputed. In this work, we study the reaction mechanism underlying the electroreduction of furfural, an important biomass-derived platform chemical, combining grand-canonical (constant-potential) density functional theory -based microkinetic simulations and pH dependent experiments on Cu under acidic conditions. Our simulations indicate the second PCET step in the reaction pathway to be the rate- and selectivity-determining for the production of the two main products of furfural electroreduction on Cu, furfuryl alcohol and 2-methyl furan, at moderate overpotentials. We further identify the source of Cu’s ability to produce both products with comparable activity in their nearly equal activation energies. Furthermore, our microkinetic simulations suggest that surface hydrogenation steps play a minor role in determining the overall activity of furfural electroreduction compared to PCET steps due to the low steady-state hydrogen coverage predicted under reaction conditions, the high activation barriers for surface hydrogenation and the observed pH dependence of the reaction.


biomass electrovalorization
furfural electroreduction
copper electrode
pH dependence
constant-potential DFT calculation
microkinetic simulation
role of surface hydrogenation

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information
Supplementary methods, computational model, energetics for hydrogen evolution reaction, pH-dependent rates, experimental calibrations


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