More efficient clean fuels could be within reach, thanks to new research that is helping commercialize the process of electrochemical CO2 conversion into clean fuel technologies. The technique is based on a laser that provides insights into complex chemical pathways.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a hugely abundant waste product that can be converted into energy-rich by-products. However, as the process is far too inefficient to work on a global, industrial scale, finding sustainable ways to replace fossil fuels is a priority for researchers.
Electrocatalysts have shown promise, but the mechanisms by which they operate are often unknown, making it hard to design new ones.
Now, research from the University of Liverpool may be the key to developing more efficient clean fuels. The new laser-based technique can be used to study the electrochemical reduction of CO2 in-situ and provide insights into these complex chemical pathways.
The researchers used a technique called Vibrational Sum-Frequency Generation (VSFG) spectroscopy coupled with electrochemical experiments to explore the chemistry of a promising CO2 reduction electrocatalyst known as Mn(bpy)(CO)3Br.
Using VSFG, the researchers were able to observe key intermediates that are only present at an electrode surface for a very short time.
“A huge challenge in studying electrocatalysts in situ is having to discriminate between the single layer of short-lived intermediate molecules at the electrode surface and the surrounding ‘noise’ from inactive molecules in the solution,” explained researcher Dr. Gaia Neri in a statement.
She added: “We’ve shown that VSFG makes it possible to follow the behaviour of even very short lived species in the catalytic cycle. This is exciting as it provides researchers with new opportunities to better understand how electrocatalysts operate, which is an important next step towards commercialising the process of electrochemical CO2 conversation into clean fuel technologies.”
The team is now working to further improve the sensitivity of the technique and is developing a new detection system which will allow for a better signal-to-noise ratio.
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