The electrocatalytic CO2 reduction reaction (CO2RR) to generate fixed forms of carbons that have commercial value is a lucrative avenue to ameliorate the growing concerns about the detrimental effect of CO2 emissions as well as to generate carbon-based feed chemicals, which are generally obtained from the petrochemical industry. The area of electrochemical CO2RR has seen substantial activity in the past decade, and several good catalysts have been reported. While the focus was initially on the rate and overpotential of electrocatalysis, it is gradually shifting toward the more chemically challenging issue of selectivity. CO2 can be partially reduced to produce several C1 products like CO, HCOOH, CH3OH, etc. before its complete 8e–/8H+ reduction to CH4. In addition to that, the low-valent electron-rich metal centers deployed to activate CO2, a Lewis acid, are prone to reduce protons, which are a substrate for CO2RR, leading to competing hydrogen evolution reaction (HER). Similarly, the low-valent metal is prone to oxidation by atmospheric O2 (i.e., it can catalyze the oxygen reduction reaction, ORR), necessitating strictly anaerobic conditions for CO2RR. Not only is the requirement of O2- free reaction conditions impractical, but it also leads to the release of partially reduced O2 species such as O2–, H2O2, etc., which are reactive and result in oxidative degradation of the catalyst. In this presentation, mechanistic investigations of CO2RR by detecting and, often, chemically trapping and characterizing reaction intermediates are used to understand the factors that determine the selectivity in CO2RR. The spectroscopic data obtained from different intermediates have been identified in different CO2RR catalysts to develop an electronic structure selectivity relationship that is deemed to be important for deciding the selectivity of 2e–/2H+ CO2RR. The roles played by the spin state, hydrogen bonding, and heterogenization in determining the rate and selectivity of CO2RR (producing only CO, only HCOOH, or only CH4) are discussed using examples of both iron porphyrin and non-heme bioinspired artificial mimics. In addition, strategies are demonstrated where the competition between CO2RR and HER as well as CO2RR and ORR could be skewed overwhelmingly in favor of CO2RR in both cases.
Professor at Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science