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Comment Sustainability

Layered catalyst selectively generates two-carbon compounds from CO2

By Scott Jenkins |

Copper-catalyzed electrochemical reduction offers a path for making valuable chemicals, such as ethanol or ethylene, from CO2. However, selectively generating sufficient yields of two-carbon products requires precise manipulation of the microenvironment near the surface to control reaction activity and product selectivity. Recent research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL; Berkeley, Calif.; www.lbl.gov) has demonstrated progress toward a catalyst system capable of activity and selectivity for C2 products that vastly outstrips those of copper alone. The LBL approach relies on layering two ion-conducting polymers — one a perfluorosulfonic acid, cation-conducting ionomer (Nafion); the other a polystyrene-based, anion-conducting ionomer (Sustainion) — onto a copper surface to catalyze the electrochemical reduction. “The Sustainion layer boosts the concentration of CO2 relative to that of H2O at the catalyst surface because the CO2 affinity and hydrophobicity of this ionomer, make it more likely that carbon-carbon coupling will occur,” explains Alexis Bell, senior scientist at LBL and professor of chemical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley (www.berkeley.edu). “Meanwhile, the Nafion raises…
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