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Enhanced Electrochemical Methanation of Carbon Dioxide with a Dispersible Nanoscale Copper Catalyst

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§ ⊥ Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, §Department of Chemistry, and Kavli Energy Nanosciences Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, United States
Materials Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, United States
Cite this: J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 38, 13319–13325
Publication Date (Web):August 19, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

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    Although the vast majority of hydrocarbon fuels and products are presently derived from petroleum, there is much interest in the development of routes for synthesizing these same products by hydrogenating CO2. The simplest hydrocarbon target is methane, which can utilize existing infrastructure for natural gas storage, distribution, and consumption. Electrochemical methods for methanizing CO2 currently suffer from a combination of low activities and poor selectivities. We demonstrate that copper nanoparticles supported on glassy carbon (n-Cu/C) achieve up to 4 times greater methanation current densities compared to high-purity copper foil electrodes. The n-Cu/C electrocatalyst also exhibits an average Faradaic efficiency for methanation of 80% during extended electrolysis, the highest Faradaic efficiency for room-temperature methanation reported to date. We find that the level of copper catalyst loading on the glassy carbon support has an enormous impact on the morphology of the copper under catalytic conditions and the resulting Faradaic efficiency for methane. The improved activity and Faradaic efficiency for methanation involves a mechanism that is distinct from what is generally thought to occur on copper foils. Electrochemical data indicate that the early steps of methanation on n-Cu/C involve a pre-equilibrium one-electron transfer to CO2 to form an adsorbed radical, followed by a rate-limiting non-electrochemical step in which the adsorbed CO2 radical reacts with a second CO2 molecule from solution. These nanoscale copper electrocatalysts represent a first step toward the preparation of practical methanation catalysts that can be incorporated into membrane-electrode assemblies in electrolyzers.

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